Population and the Environment. This new primary research area within the PSC was introduced in the prior cycle and will remain a topic of concentration for the next five years. Two projects are underway that are distinguished not only by a demographic or population perspective on the environment but by their multidisciplinary character, which brings new faces and new expertise to the PSC. Hannum and MacDonald will coordinate an interest group within the PSC, integrate it within the Energy, Sustainability, and Environment initiative of SAS, and increase the PSC’s exposure in this area within the wider community of population research.
Air pollution and child health. Hannum has been working with Behrman and others (including PSC post-doc X Liu, I Blair from Dept Pharmacology, X Chen from School of Ed, H Chang and Y Liu from Emory, and Chinese colleagues) on a study of the impact of prenatal ambient air pollution on fetal and child development in South China. Birth cohort data are rare in China, and even rarer are samples from large geographic regions with wide variations in pollution exposure levels and other spatial characteristics. The project will collect prospective birth cohort data from a hospital system that spans cities across South China. These data will permit investigation of the impact of air pollution exposure during the prenatal period on birth outcomes and early child development, as well as which investments by parents in the development and well-being of their children ameliorate (or exacerbate) the effects of the environmental air hazards. The study has received substantial Penn funding, including from the Penn-Wharton China Center and from the PSC, and is now supported by NSF.
Built environment and well-being. Multiple theories posit that visible environmental disorder, such as the presence of abandoned buildings, leads to community decline by signaling that a community is uncared-for, incivilities are tolerated, and residents are not engaged in shared expectations of social control over neighborhood problems. As a result, residents are prevented from engaging in positive health behaviors while unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse and violence, become sheltered and more prevalent. MacDonald, with former Penn colleague C Branas (Columbia) and numerous others in SAS and in the Schools of Medicine and Design, has shown how vacant and abandoned properties are associated with drug dependence, firearm violence, stress, sexually transmitted diseases, and premature mortality. Under R01 AA024941, random assignment of abandoned houses across Philadelphia to a standard, reproducible remediation protocol is being undertaken to study the effects of such policies on ameliorating morbidity (including stress), mortality, and disability related to substance abuse and violence. The project is being extended to develop an experiment that will assess the role of changing the built environment through street cleaning on gun violence.