UW News

April 18, 2002

Social inequality and health: School of Nursing’s annual Soule Lecture brings Dr. Nancy Krieger to campus

Dr. Nancy Krieger, speaker for the School of Nursing’s annual Soule Lecture, has been studying ways in which social inequality is linked to measurable health problems. She will speak on the topic “Does Social Justice Have a Place in Health and Science ?” at 4 p.m., Monday, April 29, in Kane Hall.

Kreiger, who earned a master’s degree in epidemiology from the UW in 1985, received her Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989. She is now an associate professor in the Department of Health and Social Behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health and associate director of the Harvard Center for Society and Health. She describes herself as a social epidemiologist, with a background in biochemistry, philosophy of science, and the history of public health, combined with 20 years of experience as an activist in issues involving social justice, science and health.

In 1996, when Krieger and her colleague Steve Sidney published a study linking exposure to racial discrimination to high blood pressure in black Americans, the results seemed sure to provoke. That black Americans suffered higher rates of hypertension than white Americans was not in much doubt. But Krieger’s conclusion — that experiences of racial discrimination and how people handle unfair treatment may contribute to differences in blood pressure and help explain the black/white discrepancy — was startling.

Race and ethnicity, Krieger says, is a social, not a biological variable. How people are treated based on their race or ethnicity may have a harmful effect on health over time. Further, she suggests, other factors pertaining to discrimination and economic deprivation, such as social class or gender and sexual orientation, should also be considered in public health research.

Krieger is internationally known for her books, AIDS: The Politics of Survival, co-edited with Glen Margo, and Women’s Health, Politics, and Power: Essays on Sex/Gender, Medicine, and Public Health, with Elizabeth Fee, and for her writings on conceptual frameworks, including her “ecosocial” theory, employed in research on population health.

Since the publication of the hypertension study, Krieger has been engaged in determining methods to accurately measure the effects of social inequality on health. Among her projects now are efforts to determine the incidence of cancer in relation to social class and race/ethnicity, and to assess how physical and sexual abuse affect menstrual history and onset of menopause.

The 23rd Annual Soule Endowed Lecture, named for Elizabeth Sterling Soule, a public health nurse and founding dean of the School of Nursing, is supported by private contributions. The Soule endowment also helps to support two professorships in the School of Nursing.

Both the Soule Lecture and the reception following are free and open to the public, but seating is limited. For reservations, call Tina Morrison, 206- 543-3019, or e-mail taurus@u.washington.edu.