Researching Health Equity and Social Justice

A recent study in Pittsburgh found that Black women had worse birth outcomes and a higher risk of maternal mortality than women of other races. What are the factors that lead to this? While you may know that health outcomes are influenced by gaps in care due to systemic factors that put populations at risk, finding relevant research and data is not always straightforward.

The language that authors use to describe their research and populations of interest varies across disciplines and has evolved over time. The databases that are used to find this research may have outdated keywords or complex controlled vocabulary. For example, to find articles in PubMed with a focus on Black women, you might use the subject heading “African Americans.” However, this research could also be indexed with terms such as “Minority Groups,” “Minority Health,” or “Healthcare Disparities.” The search terms that you use will influence the results you retrieve, so it is important to brainstorm different search strategies to reduce bias.

Finding relevant research is imperative, but you may also want to locate data that can be used to demonstrate social determinants of health and health outcomes. For example, the CDC Wonder system provides access to birth data (1999 to most current available) and linked birth/infant death data (1995 to most current available). Both include an incredibly wide collection of variables: pregnancy risk such as prior C-section, eclampsia, and hypertension; socio-demographic characteristics such as mother’s birth country, race and ethnicity, and educational attainment; pregnancy history and prenatal care characteristics; and mother’s risk factors such as BMI, weight gain, and smoking.

If you are planning to do research on health equity and/or social justice, there are many ways to learn more about these topics through HSLS, including classes, librarian consultations, and the HSLS website.

Upcoming HSLS classes for November that may be of interest include Finding Information in Support of Health Equity Research and Social Justice and Publicly Available Data. Both classes are also available as a requested session.

~Helena VonVille, Rebekah Miller, and Rose Turner