Our Research

The MESA Neighborhoods group has been in existence since 2003, when Dr. Ana Diez Roux received the first NIH grant to collect, process, and study neighborhood features within the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Since 2003, there have been two additional MESA neighborhood ancillary studies, the most recent of which, led by Dr. Jana Hirsch, was funded in June 2021. This recent iteration, focusing on neighborhoods and aging, will collect new survey and GIS data for the MESA cohort from Exam 5 onward (2012 to present day).

MESA and Cardiovascular Disease

MESA Neighborhoods has a long history of research on factors impacting an individual’s ability to have healthy behaviors that reduce cardiovascular risk. This includes work to characterize food environments, recreation resources, social interactions or safety, and neighborhood design in relation to diet, activity, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This work leverages the geographically and racially/ethnically diverse cohort to understand pathways between fundamental causes of disease (e.g. structural racism, economic conditions), intermediate pathways (e.g. neighborhood conditions), and health disparities.

Neighborhoods and Aging

The most recent MESA Neighborhoods grant focuses on social, natural, and built environment features related to aging-related outcomes, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. This includes the addition of measures that capture neighborhood cognitive resources, factors impacting mobility, and healthcare access. It extends previous research to understand how social determinants shift neighborhoods to influence disparities in chronic disease as MESA participants age.

Methods in Neighborhoods Research

Drexel faculty member, Brisa Several methodological challenges exist within neighborhood health effects research. These include questions around appropriate temporal or spatial scale (uncertain geographic context problem), dissipation of associations over space or time, modifiable areal unit problem, and synergies between different neighborhood factors. To facilitate rigorous research using state-of-the-art methods, the MESA Neighborhoods methods grant explores these questions to develop new tools with research-relevant application.