Center for Health Ecology and Equity Research

Mission Statement
The mission of the Center for Health Ecology and Equity Research (CHEER) is to conduct transdisciplinary ecologic research to address health inequities, and to enhance human health by directly engaging disadvantaged communities and serving as a resource for Auburn University and other partners in efforts to achieve health equity.

Description
The Center for Health Ecology and Equity Research (CHEER) is in the College of Human Sciences (CHS) at Auburn University. It was founded in March 2013 as the Center for Health Ecology Research (CHER). With the approval of the Provost, “equity” was officially added to its name in April 2016, emphasizing the Center’s commitment to principles of social justice and making explicit its mission to enhance human health by understanding and reducing health inequities. These commitments reflect the values of inclusion, diversity, and fairness endorsed by CHS and Auburn University more broadly.

CHEER serves as a forum to promote scholarship on interactions involving multiple ecological levels of influence on health–ranging from broader social forces to the cellular level. Importantly, CHEER investigators relate these factors to unresolved health inequities, which are conceptualized as unjust patterns in the distribution of disease burden that are avoidable and preventable. We focus on promoting physical, mental, and social well-being in communities that are particularly vulnerable to poor health outcomes.

This health ecology and equity perspective informs our mission:

Research
We aim to conduct research leading to greater understanding and reduction of health inequities. This research is guided by a social ecological lens, which recognizes that health outcomes are not determined exclusively by individual-level biological or behavioral factors. Rather, societal structures, institutions, policies, and the environment can enhance or undermine health, and thus play profound roles in generating health inequities. These “social determinants of health” shape health trajectories starting in utero via epigenetic mechanisms and maternal stress exposure, and continue to operate throughout human development—spanning infancy, childhood, and later adulthood. CHEER is intended to be the locus of transdisciplinary developmental approaches to research on health inequities. We place strong emphasis on connecting laboratory-based research to population sciences, including interactions between socio-contextual factors and psychobiological mechanisms impacting disease vulnerability.

Community Engagement
A substantial body of evidence indicates that marginalized groups are at disproportionately greater risk for health-related challenges due to heightened exposure to risk factors and the inequitable allocation of protective resources. Thus, a major part of our mission is to enhance health through direct engagement of underprivileged communities. We support efforts to attain and maintain optimal health in populations suffering from poorer health outcomes, including, but not limited to: racial and ethnic minorities; the poor and other socioeconomically disadvantaged groups; sexual and gender minorities (e.g., gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender); rural populations; inner-city communities; and immigrants. We aim to mitigate the negative health implications of social hazards that these communities are susceptible to, such as racism, anti-immigrant discrimination, neighborhood disadvantage, homophobia, and reduced access to quality health care and other preventive services. Being located in east-central Alabama near rural populations as well as several large metropolitan cities, Auburn University through CHEER is positioned to play a central role in improving health outcomes in these areas. Our community engagement activities are centered on providing services and disseminating health information through community events and outreach.

Training
CHEER cultivates the next generation of research on health inequities through training activities that are available to students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty in colleges across Auburn University, and to other institutions at the local, national, and international levels. Our initiatives include structured workshops, seminars, conferences, and programs in health ecology and equity, which aim to enhance both substantive and methodological knowledge in health ecology and equity research. These activities are designed to help individuals acquire or develop a foundation of knowledge on health disparities issues that highlights the interplay among context, behavior, and biology throughout human development, and at multiple levels of disease risk. Our training also focuses on psychobiological mechanisms of embodiment, which integrates research on psychoneuroimmunology and endocrinology, stress physiology, neuroimaging, genetics, and molecular and cellular biology, as these promote or constrain pathways leading to healthy outcomes. Our goal is to have CHEER serve as a nexus for diverse scholars to receive mentorship as well as engage in active co-mentoring of others through multidisciplinary teams.


CHEER provides support to the Auburn University-wide Health Disparities Research Cluster

For more information contact:

Dr. David Chae, CHEER Director,
E: david.chae@auburn.edu   |   P: (334) 844-3321