Our mission is to train social epidemiologists who can apply principles of social justice, a core set of epidemiologic skills, and substantive knowledge to study the complex relations between the social environment and health. These are our goals.

  • Provide students with the necessary training and support in advanced social epidemiological methods, theory, and research approaches through course work, seminars, and applied research opportunities.
  • Support students in developing research questions, applying methods and communicating social epidemiologic findings.
  • Foster an innovative and interdisciplinary research environment by exposing students to novel or non-traditional approaches (e.g., systems approaches, biopsychosocial framework), and to relevant disciplines (e.g. policy, health behavior, economics, and sociology).
  • Create opportunities for students to connect and collaborate with multidisciplinary researchers, locally and globally

Program Courses

Related Courses

Journal Club and Seminars

The social epidemiology journal club meets monthly during Fall & Spring semester.
Seminars are held on Wednesdays, 12:20 – 1:10 PM, in 1305 McGavran-Greenberg Hall.

Core Faculty

Dr. Allison Aiello: Socioeconomics and health, Infectious diseases, Minority health, Ecologic stressors, Mental health.

Dr. Gerardo Heiss: Cardiovascular disease, genetics, metabolic syndrome, hemostasis, carotid ultrasound, and lipids.

Dr. Bill Jenkins.

Dr. Joanna “Asia” Maselko.

Dr. Brian Pence: Mental health, HIV-related behaviors and health outcomes, Southeastern US and in Africa.

Dr. Whitney Robinson: Health disparities by gender and race, Cancer, Obesity, Decomposition.

Dr. Jim Thomas: Social forces affecting STDs and HIV/AIDS, Minority health, Public health ethics.

Dr. Audrey Pettifor: Sexually transmitted diseases, Health behavior, Determinants of and novel interventions for HIV, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Vic Schoenbach: History of epidemiology, HIV/STD/sexual behavior, Cancer control, Contextual factors, Health disparities.

Dr. Anissa Vines: Perceived racial discrimination, Stress and coping, Chronic disparate conditions (e.g. uterine fibroids, obesity and type 2 diabetes)

Additional Information

Social Additional Information


Papers / Grants / Projects

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.

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.

Epidemiology of Functional Status in Elderly Hispanics
The major goal of this grant is to prospectively follow 2000 community-dwelling Latinos over age 60 living in the Central Valley of California entitled Sacramento Area Latino Study of Aging (SALSA). Data will be obtained on health status, prevalence of functional impairments, risk factors for decline in physical and cognitive function and the prevalence and incidence of dementia in this group.

Life Course Socioeconomics, Acculturation, & Type-2 Diabetes Risk Among Latinos
The proposed study will assess the impact of life course socioeconomic position and acculturation on type-2 diabetes and examine potential biological mediators, including inflammation, among two generations of US Latinos. The findings from this study will have important public health implications, including identification of critical risk factors and biological mechanisms mediating the effects of life course sociocultural contexts on type-2 diabetes across generations of US Latinos.

Infectious Links Between Psychosocial Stress and Aging
This study will increase our understanding of how psychosocial stress accelerates the aging process. We propose to bring together research on two pathways that have been linked to both socioeconomic status and psychosocial stress: the role of latent pathogens in age-related immunosenescence and the role of telomere shortening in cellular aging. Identifying associations and interactions between psychosocial stress, immune function, and telomere length could lead to novel areas of prevention and intervention in chronic diseases of aging.

A Social Network Study of Influenza in University Students
The proposed study will assess the impact of social network isolation on risk of influenza among university students, including social network information collected through a novel smartphone app. The data include a rich set of social, demographic, and behavioral factors that may influence the transmission of infectious illness.

Ecological stressors, PTSD, and drug use in Detroit
The overall purpose of this project is to study the pathways linking ecologic stressors to long-term health. This project primarily aims to disentangle the contribution of stressors at multiple levels to the etiology of PTSD and drug abuse/dependence and how these stressors shape the relationship between these pathologies. Secondarily, we propose to consider the consequences of PTSD in the context of ecologic stressors, particularly the relation between PTSD and immune and inflammatory function, and how these consequences are shaped by exposure to ecologic stressors.

Candidate Epigenetic Biomarkers For PTSD: Insights From Detroit
To assess whether methylation profiles differ among individuals with current PTSD, those who have once had PTSD but are now PTSD free, and individuals who have been trauma exposed but never developed the disorder. To assess whether gene expression profiles differ among individuals with current PTSD, those who have once had PTSD but are now PTSD free, and individuals who have been trauma exposed but never developed the disorder.

Learning Objectives

Upon satisfactory completion of the Social Epidemiology Program, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the major guiding areas in Social Epidemiology, including: Population Perspective, Social and Economic Context, Multilevel Approaches, Developmental and Life Course Perspectives, and Psychosocial Stressors and Biosocial Pathways
  2. Be familiar with the key measurement approaches and concepts in Social Epidemiology, including social cohesion, social capital, social networks, measures of socioeconomic position and status, inequality (e.g., income inequality, segregation), acculturation/assimilation, race and racism, discrimination, and sex/gender.
  3. Understand the principles and practices for studying the impact of neighborhoods on health, including neighborhood disorder and “broken windows”, built environment and walkability, sources of neighborhood data (census, national surveys, etc.), and differences between individual-level, aggregate, and integral variables.
  4. Understand approaches and strategies for causal inference in Social Epidemiology, including directed acyclic graphs (DAGS), constructing conceptual models, mediation, and relevant study designs (demographic studies, ecological studies, life course studies, natural experiments, social network studies, randomized community trials, multi-level analyses, and community-based participatory research).
  5. Be familiar with spatial analytic approaches, including geocoding, mapping, and geographical units of analysis.
  6. Be able to carry out analytic techniques used in Social Epidemiology, such as instrumental variable analysis, propensity scores, mediation analysis, and structural equation modeling.
  7. Be familiar with the history of Social Epidemiology.
  8. Understand how achieving health equity, reducing health inequalities/disparities, may mitigate some of the major population health concerns of today.
  9. Apply epidemiologic methods in the design, conduct and analysis of Social Epidemiology studies.
  10. Communicate social epidemiology study findings to researchers, public health officials, policy makers, health professionals, and the community.
  11. Understand the effectiveness of public health interventions targeting social exposures, including the effects of social policy on health and structural interventions.

Training Opportunities

ECHO/PROJECT EXPORT PILOT RESEARCH PROJECTS IN RACIAL/ETHNIC HEALTH DISPARITIES 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.Collapse Additional Information

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