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Downs T.J.,Environmental Science and Policy Program | Downs T.J.,Clark University | Ross L.,Community Development and Planning Program | Ross L.,Clark University | And 5 more authors.
Risk Analysis | Year: 2011

Millions of low-income people of diverse ethnicities inhabit stressful old urban industrial neighborhoods. Yet we know little about the health impacts of built-environment stressors and risk perceptions in such settings; we lack even basic health profiles. Difficult access is one reason (it took us 30 months to survey 80 households); the lack of multifaceted survey tools is another. We designed and implemented a pilot vulnerability assessment tool in Worcester, Massachusetts. We answer: (1) How can we assess vulnerability to multiple stressors? (2) What is the nature of complex vulnerability-including risk perceptions and health profiles? (3) How can findings be used by our wider community, and what lessons did we learn? (4) What implications arise for science and policy? We sought a holistic picture of neighborhood life. A reasonably representative sample of 80 respondents captured data for 254 people about: demographics, community concerns and resources, time-activity patterns, health information, risk/stress perceptions, and resources/capacities for coping. Our key findings derive partly from the survey data and partly from our experience in obtaining those data. Data strongly suggest complex vulnerability dominated by psychosocial stress. Unexpected significant gender and ethnic disease disparities emerged: notably, females have twice the disease burden of males, and white females twice the burden of females of color (p < 0.01). Self-reported depression differentiated by gender and age is illustrative. Community based participatory research (CBPR) approaches require active engagement with marginalized populations, including representatives as funded partners. Complex vulnerability necessitates holistic, participatory approaches to improve scientific understanding and societal responses. © 2010 Society for Risk Analysis.

Downs T.J.,Environmental Science and Policy Program | Downs T.J.,George Perkins Marsh Research Institute | Ogneva-Himmelberger Y.,George Perkins Marsh Research Institute | Ogneva-Himmelberger Y.,Clark University | And 11 more authors.
Environmental Health Perspectives | Year: 2010

Background: The National Children's Study is the most ambitious study ever attempted in the United States to assess how environmental factors impact child health and development. It aims to follow 100,000 children from gestation until 21 years of age. Success requires breaking new interdisciplinary ground, starting with how to select the sample of > 1,000 children in each of 105 study sites; no standardized protocol exists for stratification of the target population by factoring in the diverse environments it inhabits. Worcester County, Massachusetts, like other sites, stratifies according to local conditions and local knowledge, subject to probability sampling rules.Objectives: We answer the following questions: How do we divide Worcester County into viable strata that represent its health-relevant environmental and sociodemographic heterogeneity, subject to sampling rules? What potential does our approach have to inform stratification at other sites?Results: We developed a multivariable, vulnerability-based method for spatial sampling consisting of two descriptive indices: a hazards/stressors exposure index (comprising three proxy variables), and an adaptive capacity/sociodemographic character index (five variables). Multivariable, health-relevant stratification at the start of the study may improve detection power for environment-child health associations down the line. Eighteen strata capture countywide heterogeneity in the indices and have optimal relative homogeneity within each. They achieve comparable expected birth counts and conform to local concepts of space. Conclusion: The approach offers moderate to high potential to inform other sites, limited by intersite differences in data availability, geodemographics, and technical capacity. Energetic community engagement from the start promotes local stratification coherence, plus vital researcher-community trust and co-ownership for sustainability.

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