Disparities research, disparities researchers, and health equity

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Contact Info: ehoh@mednet.ucla.edu

Authors: Mercedes R. Carnethon, Kiarri N. Kershaw, and Namratha R. Kandula

Disparities in life expectancy by race, ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomic status present a significant challenge in the United States and around the world. In response, the world's largest funder of biomedical research, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports a suite of research and career development programs designed to elimate health disparities. Despite the clear message from the NIH that health disparities are a significant concern, the scientific community has not embraced the message.

Evidence that disparities research may not be a priority to the community emerged when the NIH conducted a study to investigate reasons for research funding gaps between black and white investigators. After confirming prior reports that black researchers remained significantly less likely (10.7%) than white researchers (17.7%) to be awarded NIH R01 grants, the text of funded grants was analyzed to identify topics and the race of the investigators proposing those grants. Black investigators were more likely than white investigators to propose topics such as health disparities and to use study designs that included humans, communities, and behavioral interventions. Topic choice accounted for 21% of the funding gap between black and white researchers, an observation that led the NIH study team to conlcude that disparities were "less likely to excite the enthusiasm of the scientific community." In response, NIH leadership reiterated a need to understand the reasons for these findings.

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The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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