Dr. Shakira Franco Suglia is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health – Department of Epidemiology. Her research interests are multidisciplinary, as her work examines the effects of the social and physical environment on children’s psychological and physical health. One focus of her work is the role of domestic and community violence — conceptualized as a chronic stressor — on the development of a number of child outcomes (i.e., asthma, obesity, cognitive deficiencies and behavioral problems). Her work also examines the impact of environmental factors (i.e., poor quality built environment and traffic related pollutants) predominant in urban communities which may interact with other social factors and affect children’s health. Her current research explores how negative (i.e., housing dilapidation and psychological stressors) and positive (i.e., social support and mother-child interaction) factors may modify the impact of violence on child health. Suglia received her Sc.D. in epidemiology and environmental health from the Harvard School of Public Health. In her dissertation she developed a methodology to better characterize violence exposure and examined the relationship between violence exposure and lung function among children.
The New Connections project focused on violence exposure, a social factor prevalent in urban communities in the United States that, although known to have psychological consequences, until recently had not been studied as a determinant of physiological health outcomes. Violence exposure conceptualized as a chronic psychological stressor is hypothesized to impact health through the disruption of various physiological mechanisms (i.e., autonomic nervous system, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, immune system function and oxidative stress pathways). A growing number of studies have explored the role of violence exposure and psychological health outcomes, but few have examined the role of violence on physiological health outcomes and even fewer have focused on children. The goal of this project was to examine the relationship between early life violence exposure and development of asthma among children. In addition, it explored how the stress-asthma association may be modified by the home, social and physical environment.
The effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) on childhood asthma and the buffering effects of supportive caregiving as well as the exacerbating effects of poor housing quality on the violence-asthma association were explored. A relationship between chronic IPV and development of asthma among children three years of age was noted. Furthermore, among children chronically exposed to IPV, a lower risk of asthma was found among children with higher levels of positive mother-child interactions and cognitive stimulation. Also among children chronically exposed to IPV who were living in disarrayed or deteriorated housing, a higher risk of asthma was noted compared to children exposed to IPV who were living in adequate housing. While public health interventions should be aimed at eliminating IPV, understanding factors that can buffer the effects of domestic violence in children may inform prevention strategies that can potentially benefit not only their psychological well being, but also their physical health. In addition interventions that target both social as well as environmental factors may have more fruitful results.
Why I Applied to New Connections
I’ve had a very enriching experience as a member of the New Connections program. Through this award I was able to demonstrate my ability to secure independent funding and conduct independent research. The ability to interact with investigators from different disciplines, who share similar research interests is an invaluable aspect of this program, and I believe, has made me a better researcher.
Epidemiology; Environmental Health
The project was conducted using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, a prospective longitudinal cohort of approximately 4700 families and children followed since birth.
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator,
- Award Year: 2007
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Vulnerable Populations
- Project Name: Impact of Violence Exposure on Children’s Health.
A growing number of studies have explored the role of violence exposure and psychological health outcomes, but few have examined the role of violence on physiological health outcomes and even fewer have focused on children. Dr. Shakira Franco Suglia’s New Connections project examines the relationship between early life violence exposure and development of asthma among children. In addition, it explored how the stress-asthma association may be modified by the home, social and physical environment.