Social Epidemiology Research


This site will serve as a guide and resource to students of social epidemiology. The website will include:

  • Faculty and their areas of interest within social epi
  • Potential funding sources
  • Relevant courses in the School and elsewhere on campus
  • Relevant links
  • Current social epidemiology studies at UNC
  • A list of seminal readings
Papers / Grants


PIN Study
Preterm births–those deliveries before 37 weeks gestation–are one of the major contributors to perinatal morbidity and mortality in the United States. This study’s primary goal is to identify etiologic factors for preterm delivery, including preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PROM), delivery due to early onset of labor, and related complications of pregnancy, so that public health measures can be taken to reduce this adverse pregnancy outcome and its associated health, social, and economic costs.
The project has had four major phases of data collection during the prenatal period, referred to as PIN1, PIN2, PIN3, and PIN3plus. Recruitment is currently underway into the PIN3 and PIN3plus protocols. A Postpartum component recontacts women and their babies at 3 months and 12 months postpartum.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) is a nationally representative study that explores the causes of health-related behaviors of adolescents in grades 7 through 12 and their outcomes in young adulthood. Add Health seeks to examine how social contexts (families, friends, peers, schools, neighborhoods, and communities) influence adolescents’ health and risk behaviors.
Initiated in 1994 under a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with co-funding from 17 other federal agencies, Add Health is the largest, most comprehensive survey of adolescents ever undertaken. Data at the individual, family, school, and community levels were collected in two waves between 1994 and 1996. In 2001 and 2002, Add Health respondents, 18 to 26 years old, were re-interviewed in a third wave to investigate the influence that adolescence has on young adulthood.
Multiple datasets are available for study, and more than 1,000 published reports and journal articles have used the data to analyze aspects of these complex issues. Add Health investigators hope this research will enable policy makers, researchers, health-care providers, and educators to better understand how to protect the health of young people in the US.

The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study
The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), is a prospective epidemiologic study conducted in four U.S. communities. ARIC is designed to investigate the etiology and natural history of atherosclerosis, the etiology of clinical atherosclerotic diseases, and variation in cardiovascular risk factors, medical care and disease by race, gender, location, and date.
ARIC includes two parts: the Cohort Component and the Community Surveillance Component. The Cohort Component began in 1987, and each ARIC field center randomly selected and recruited a cohort sample of approximately 4,000 individuals aged 45-64 from a defined population in their community. A total of 15,792 participants received an extensive examination, including medical, social, and demographic data. These participants were reexamined every three years with the first screen (baseline) occurring in 1987-89, the second in 1990-92, the third in 1993-95, and the fourth and last exam was in 1996-98. Follow-up occurs yearly by telephone to maintain contact with participants and to assess health status of the cohort.

Right from the Start

Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)
The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) is a medical research study involving more than 6,000 men and women from six communities in the United States. MESA is sponsored by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Participants in MESA are seen at clinics in the following universities:
Columbia University, New York
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
Northwestern University, Chicago
UCLA, Los Angeles
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Wake Forest University, Winston Salem

Pitt County Study

Learning Objectives

Upon satisfactory completion of the Social Epidemiology Program, students will be able to describe or apply the following concepts and skills:

Theories relevant to social epidemiology

  • Social ecology framework
  • Determinism (e.g., geographical, genetic) and agency (individual and aggregate)
  • Socio-political theories (e.g., Engels, Weber)
  • Key debates in social epidemiology
  • Direct and indirect effects


  • Social measures
    • Social cohesion, social capital, collective efficacy, social control
    • Measures of social location (e.g., SES)
    • Measures of inequality (e.g., income inequality, segregation)
    • Acculturation
    • Race and racism; sex/gender and sexism
  • Physical measures
    • Social disorder and “broken windows”
    • Other measures of the built environment
    • Measures of the natural environment
  • Sources of data
    • Census
    • National surveys
    • Public access data (e.g., disease surveillance, corrections)
    • Others’ studies (e.g., Add Health, PHDCN)
    • Empirical data collection
    • Compositional and contextual variables

Research methods

  • Causality
    • DAGS (strengths and limitations when applied to social epidemiology)
    • Constructing conceptual models
    • Differentiating between proximal and distal factors
  • Study designs (design, analysis, and interpretation)
    • Ecological studies
    • Life course studies
    • Natural experiments
    • Networks
    • Randomized community trials
    • Multi-level studies
    • Mixed methods (integration of quantitative and qualitative)
    • Community-based participatory research
  • Spatial analytic techniques
    • Geocoding
    • Mapping
    • Geographical units of analysis (assets and liabilities of each)
  • Special techniques
    • Instrumental variables
    • Propensity scores

Patterns of disease

  • Geographical distribution of common health outcomes
  • Social distribution of common health outcomes


  • The ethical nature of patterns of health and disease in populations (including health disparities)
  • Concepts of justice (e.g., human rights, utilitarianism, preference for the poor)
  • How public health ethics differs from medical ethics
  • Research ethics in social epidemiology studies


  • Geoffrey Rose and structural interventions
  • Rudolf Virchow: diseases and the political economy
  • Edwin Chadwick: environmental reform
  • UNC Social epidemiology alumni (e.g., Kark, Cassel, James)

Public health and interventions

  • The effects of social policy on health
  • Translation of epidemiologic research into policy
  • Structural interventions
  • Measurement and evaluation of programs, policies, and interventions



670: Demographic Techniques I (Suchindran and Bilsborrow)

Source and interpretation of demographic data; rates and ratios, standardization, complete and abridged life tables; estimation and projection of fertility, mortality, migration, and population composition. Fall.

BIOS 771: Demographic Techniques II
Life table techniques; methods of analysis when data are deficient; population projection methods; interrelations among demographic variables; migration analysis; uses of population models. Prerequisites, BIOS 670 and integral calculus.


EPID 783: Injury and Violence as Public Health Problems

This course considers the causes and consequences of traumatic injury within developmental, social, and economic contexts, and dilemmas in injury prevention. Injuries associated with transportation, violence, and the home and occupational environments are included.

EPID 785: Environmental Epidemiology
Epidemiologic ideas and methods applied to evaluation and control of human health consequences of environmental hazards. Pollution of environmental media and global change are considered from a human-ecological perspective, with local and international examples. Three lecture hours per week. Prerequisites, EPID 710 and BIOS 600. (On request.)

EPID 826: Social Epidemiology: Concepts and Measures (J. Thomas)
Social forces affecting community health and how to measure them for epidemiologic analysis. Topics range from social networks to racism and ethics. Prerequisite: EPID 160. (Offered in alternate [odd-numbered years] spring semesters.

EPID 827: Social Epidemiology: Analysis and Interpretation (W. Robinson)
This course will introduce selected analytic methods for investigating the influences of upstream social processes on health. Students will learn to evaluate strengths and limitations of social epidemiologic research. (Offered in alternate [even-numbered years] spring semesters.)

EPID 892/MHCH 892: Seminar in Health Disparities (V. Hogan, A. Vines)
This seminar will provide an opportunity for students to synthesize knowledge across disciplines and to develop an interdisciplinary approach to addressing their identified health disparities research topic. Prerequisite, MHCH 756. One seminar hour per week.

Health Education and Health Behavior

HBHE 753: Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods (S. Maman)
This is an introduction to qualitative research methodology. The course is intended to develop students’ skills in designing qualitative research studies, developing qualitative research questions, collecting, managing and analyzing qualitative data, and presenting findings from a qualitative study. Students will collect their own qualitative data that they will analyze in groups. Prerequisite, HBHE 750 or equivalent. Spring.

HBHE 803: Social Relationships and Health
Introduces students to epidemiological evidence that links social relationship with health outcomes and introduces students to theoretical and empirical work that attempts to establish the link between social relationships and physical health.

Maternal and Child Health

MHCH 664 (140): Globalization and Health (cross listed with HPAA 664) (B. Fried and L. Knauff).
The course examines multiple dimensions of globalization and explores their direct and indirect effects on determinants of health through presentations, case studies, class discussions, small group seminars, readings, weekly short written assignments, a critical book review, and a final paper and poster session. An expected outcome of the course is that students will gain a deeper understanding of how the changes and transformations of globalization and development affect health, and will have examined responses and approaches to current global patterns that contribute to positive and adverse health effects and health inequalities. This course is an alternative core course to Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Global Health, taught in the Fall semester, for students enrolled in the Global Health Certificate Program.

MHCH 740: Introduction to Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (Rowley)
Eliminating health disparities is a broad national goal for improving the health of Americans, and part of the mission of the Gillings School of Global Public Health. However, little to no progress has been made on eliminating disparities in morbidity and mortality experienced by some racial/ethnic subpopulations. This course provides students with the basic concepts about the origins of and contributing factors to racial/ethnic health disparities. Approaches to eliminating disparities will be examined. Weekly online lectures/materials will alternate with class discussions. Fall.

MHCH 756: Understanding and Addressing Health Inequalities in the US (V. Hogan)
This course is being taught to provide the knowledge, skills and abilities to conduct needs assessment, critical appraisal and measurement of the distribution, causes and consequences of health inequalities, to evaluate or design intervention with respect to clinical practice, allocation of resources, health, medical care and/or social policy, and to design appropriate etiologic, health services or clinical research, targeted toward understanding, reducing and ultimately eliminating health disparities of various types and across varying vulnerable populations. This course will focus on chronic diseases and perinatal outcomes.


EDUC 888 Introduction to Structural Equation Modeling (W. Ware)
Introduces structural equation modeling with both observed and latent variables. Applications include confirmatory factor analysis, multiple group analyses, longitudinal analyses and multitrait-multimethod models.

EDUC 982: Advanced Qualitative Analysis and Interpretation (G. Noblit)
This advanced seminar focuses on the needs of doctoral students immersed in qualitative research, with an emphasis on data analysis.


ANTH 750: Seminar in Medical Anthropology (W. Lachicotte)
Specially designed for, but not restricted to, students who are specializing in medical anthropology. Medicine as part of culture; medicine and social structure viewed cross-culturally; medicine in the perspective of anthropological theory; research methods. A special purpose is to help students plan their own research projects, theses, and dissertations.


SOCI 250: Sociological Theory (Kurzman)
A study of theoretical perspectives in sociology, their relation to contemporary social issues, and their roots in classical social thought.

SOCI 850: Social Stratification
Analysis of major theories of and approaches to the study of social inequality, with attention to how the various theories and approaches are operationalized. Focus on recent research in labor markets and world-wide inequality.

SOCI 851: Sociology of Gender
Reviews theory on variation in men’s and women’s gender roles, with emphasis on industrialized societies and women’s roles.

SOCI 821: The Life Course
Provides an intense introduction to the life course as a theoretical orientation and methodology (logic of inquiry).

SOCI 830: Demography: Theory, Substance, Techniques, Part I
A basic introduction to the discipline of demography. Materials covered include population history, data sources, mortality and fertility trends, and differentials and techniques of analysis.

SOCI 831: Demography: Theory, Substance, Techniques, Part II
A continuation of SOCI 830. Materials covered include population growth and stable population theory, migration and distribution, population policy, and population estimates and projections.

SOCI 833: Socioeconomic Factors In Fertility
Fertility differentials by social and economic factors, changes therein over time, the manner in which these factors affect fertility, and the implications thereof for fertility-control programs are studied. (On demand.)

SOCI 855: Poverty in America
This graduate seminar will study trends, causes, and consequences of poverty in America, covering the topics of single-mother families, child poverty, low-wage work, immigrant families, and welfare reform and social policy.

SOCI 863: Medical Sociology: Health, Illness, and Healing
This graduate seminar presents a conceptual and substantive overview of some of the most fundamental and salient issues in the field of medical sociology. The focus of the course is on continuity and change in health and health care. The following topics will be examined: social causation of disease; medicalization of social problems; medicine as a profession; treatment systems and organization of care; politics and the changing face of the medical care system.

The following geography courses are of potential interest to students of social epidemiology, but because they are not graduate-level courses, they can only count as electives, not as substantive epidemiology courses.

Geography 423: Social Geography
A study of spatial components of current social problems such as poverty, race relations, environmental deterioration and pollution, and crime. Cravey, staff.

Geography 428: Urban geography
A geographical study of the spatial structure and function or urban settlements. Emphasis is on the regional relations of cities and central place theory. Staff.

Geography 434: The Cultural Ecology of Urbanization, Agriculture, and Disease (3).
Examines the role of interactions of cultures, environments, and human diseases in the quest for sustainable agriculture by examining the cultural ecology of systems and their human diseases. Meade.

Geography 435: Environmental Politics
This course brings geographical perspectives on place, space, scale, and environmental change to the study of environmental politics. In lectures, texts, and student research, we examine topics including environmental health risks, globalization and urban environments, and the role of science in environmental politics. Kirsch.

Geography 445: Medical Geography
The human ecology of health is studied by analyzing the cultural/environmental interactions that lie behind world patterns of disease distribution, diffusion and treatment, and the ways these are being altered by development. Meade.

Geography 446: Geography of Health Care Delivery
This course covers basics, including personnel and facility distributions, accessibility, regionalization, and location/allocation modeling; spatial analysis and GIS; and the cultural geography of health care, including humanist and political economic perspectives. Staff.

Geography 447: Gender, Space, and Place in the Middle East)
Examines gender, space and place relationships in the modern Middle East. Investigates shifting gender geographies of colonialism, nationalism, modernization and globalization in this region. Gökariksel.

Geography 448: Transnational Geographies of Muslim Societies (INTS 448)
Examines new modern Muslim geographies that are created by transnational flows, connections, and imaginaries that cross national and regional boundaries across the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and beyond. Gökariksel.

Geography 450: Population Geography
A study of the spatial dimensions of population growth, density and movement, and of the shifts in these patterns as they relate to changes in selected socioeconomic environmental and cultural phenomena. Florin, Meade, Whitmore.

Geography 452: Mobile Geographies: the Political Economy of Migration
This course explores the contemporary experience of migrants. Various theoretical approaches are introduced, with the emphasis on a political economy approach. Cravey.

Geography 453: Political Geography (PWAD 453)
The geography of politics is explored at the global, the nation-state, and the local scale in separate units, but the interconnections between these geographical scales are emphasized throughout. Cravey, Kirsch.

Geography 454: Historical Geography of the United States (FOLK 454)
A study of selected past geographies of the United States with emphasis on the significant geographic changes in population, cultural, and economic conditions through time. Florin.

Geography 457: Rural Latin America: Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources
Explores a systems and cultural-ecological view of agriculture, environment, natural resource, and rural development issues in Latin America. Whitmore. Prerequisite, GEOG 259 or permission of instructor.

Geography 458: Urban Latin America: Politics, Economy, and Society
Examines contemporary issues in urban Latin America, including geographical concepts, political trajectories of individual countries, and urban-based activist social movements. Cravey. Prerequisite, GEOG 259 or permission of instructor.

Geography 460: Geographies of Economic Change
This course is designed to explore changing geographies of production and consumption in theory and practice. Wolford.

Geography 464: Europe Today: Transnationalism, Globalisms, and the Geographies of Pan-Europe
A survey by topic and country of Europe west of Russia. Those features that made Europe a distinct and important region today are emphasized. Pickles.

Geography 477: Introduction to Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing
Prerequisite, GEOG 370 or equivalent. Emphasizes methods of data analysis that offer an automated approach to spatial and non-spatial data synthesis which combines a system of data capture, storage, management, retrieval, analysis, and display. Fall. Moody, Song, Walsh.

Geography 491: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
Prerequisite, GEOG 370 or equivalent. Stresses the spatial analysis and modeling capabilities of organizing data within a geographic information system. Moody, Song, Walsh.

Primary Appointments in Epidemiology


Allison E. Aiello, ProfessorProgram Leader 
Aiello Research Group

Dr. Aiello joined the department as Professor of Epidemiology and Social Epidemiology Program Leader in January 2014. Prior to joining UNC, Dr. Aiello was a faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology and Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor. Her research investigates socioeconomic and race/ethnic disparities in health, social patterning of infectious diseases, the relationship between infection and chronic disease, and prevention of infections in the community setting. Dr. Aiello is the PI of several NIH/CDC funded studies where she is examining social, behavioral, biological, and genetic, determinants of both infectious and chronic health outcomes.

Gerardo Heiss, MD, PhD. Director of Graduate Studies
Research Areas:
• Cardiovascular disease
Gerardo Heiss
Sara L. Huston, PhD, Research Assistant Professor
Research Areas:
• Cardiovascular disease
Sara L. Huston
Whitney Robinson, PhD, Assistant Professor
Research Areas:
• Obesity
Whitney Robinson
Audrey E. Pettifor, PhD, Assistant Professor
Research Areas:
• Health behavior
• Sexually transmitted diseases
Audrey E. Pettifor
Kathryn M. Rose, Research Associate Professor
Research Areas:
• Minority health
Kathryn M. Rose
Victor J. Schoenbach, PhD, Associate Professor
Research Areas:
• Minority health
Victor J. Schoenbach
Anissa I. Vines, PhD, Research Assistant Professor
Research Areas:
• Minority health
Anissa I. Vines
James C. Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor,
Research Areas:
• Social forces affecting STDs and HIV/AIDS
• Minority health
• Public health ethics
James C. Thomas
Sharon S. Weir, PhD, Research Assistant Professor
Research Areas:
• Minority health
  Sharon S. Weir
Steven B. Wing, PhD Associate Professor
Research Areas:
• Ethics
• Minority health
• Rural health
Steven B. Wing
Students in the Social Epidemiology program come from diverse academic backgrounds, and Post-doctoral students include a mix of those with MD and PhD degrees. The program has historically promoted diversity – academic, ethnic, gender and cultural – in the selection of trainees.

Typical student dissertation titles:

Hurricane evacuation failure: The roles of social cohesion, social capital and social control

Perceived racism and substance use among Latino immigrant men

An ecological examination of asthma onset and expression among low-income families in Chicago: Housing, family, and neighborhood determinants

Risk behavior disclosure during HIV test counseling

Alumni of the Social Epidemiology program take a variety of professional positions in the academic, governmental and private sectors. These include:

  • Product Analyst, A4 Health Systems
  • Research Associate, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Associate Professor, Colorado State University, Department of Health and Exercise Science
  • Senior Statistician, Duke Clinical Research Institute
  • Assistant Research Professor, Duke University, Duke Center for Aging
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Program on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health Outcomes (ECHO) in collaboration with the Carolina-Shaw Partnership to Eliminate Health Disparities (Project EXPORT), is pleased to announce a call for pilot grant proposals on issues related to racial or ethnic health disparities. The purpose of this call for proposals is to encourage small-scale pilot research projects that can be completed within 12 -18 months and have the potential to lead to a larger federally or foundation funded award application. We are interested in a broad variety of issues including, for example, innovative survey methods with minorities and underserved populations. We strongly encourage collaborative projects between faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

Carolina Population Center Fellowships
Pre and post-doc fellowships

Training programs at the Cecil G. Sheps Center
Includes: National Research Service Award (NRSA) Pre-Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Training Program in Health Services Research
Welcomes applications from physicians, dentists, and other post-doctoral trainees as well as pre-doctoral students already admitted to degree candidacy in the NC-CH departments of Health Policy and Management, Epidemiology, Maternal and Child Health, Health Behavior, Biostatistics, Sociology, Geography, Economics, Anthropology, or Political Science. The emphasis of the training program is the organization, financing, utilization, quality and evaluation of personal health care services and public policies for ensuring access to such services.

Active Living Research Dissertation Awards
Dissertation awards are a priority for Active Living Research because they both help build the evidence base and increase the number of investigators in this new field of study. Doctoral candidates in any field or discipline may request up to $25,000 total for up to two years as support for their doctoral dissertations. Projects must have clear relevance to the overall mission of Active Living Research, and preference will be given to proposals that are relevant to preventing childhood obesity. However, projects do not have to address the specific topics in the Active Living Research call for proposals.

Epidemiology Student Funding
A social epidemiology approach can be applied to all health outcomes. Therefore, the various training grants in the department are also a potential source of funding for students. Those grants are listed on the Student Central web pages.

Seminal readings in social epidemiology.

WHO Commisson on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH)
Includes current and past CSDH newsletters, publications and commission reports.

The Spirit of 1848, A Network Linking Politics, Passion, & Public Health

The link below provides a list of books and articles that form the core of Social Epidemiology and are essential for taking the qualifying exams.

Seminal readings in social epidemiology