Whitney Robinson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Epidemiology
Whitney R. Robinson is figuring out why Black women in the U.S. often experience worse health and healthcare than other Americans when it comes to gynecological issues, cancer, and other conditions. Her research focuses on everyday challenges (such as poverty during childhood, limited health care options, other ways that structural racism plays out in people's lives) and how they contribute to people's risk of dealing with chronic health care issues. She believes that Black women are like "the canary in the coal mine": the kind of changes that would improve the health of Black women would dramatically improve the health of all Americans.
Robinson specializes in epidemiologic methods for health disparities research. She focuses on how and why processes of obesity and cancer development differ by sex, race, and ethnicity. The theoretical underpinning of her work is the lifecourse framework. For example, her Population Health work hypothesizes that nutritional, socioeconomic, and psychosocial exposures during critical periods in utero and during childhood have enduring effects on adult obesity development and partially explain why obesity prevalence is much greater in young U.S. Black women than in young U.S. Black men and other groups. Robinson's newer research program uses the lifecourse framework to investigate questions relevant to demography and reproductive health. This newly funded work investigates how racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in gynecologic surgery among U.S. women affect disparities in fertility as well as health disparities in several chronic diseases.
Her SARS-CoV-2 research is uncovering how the infection and vaccination affect populations understudied in other COVID-19 research. For instance, most early information on SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. was from hospitalized patients, who are older and sicker than other SARS-CoV-2 cases. Dr. Robinson uses novel epidemiology studies like seroprevalence of blood from pregnant people to investigate coronavirus transmission among younger adults, with a focus on immigrants, and Black and Latino/a populations. Further, her work shines a light on the need to make school and work settings safe for students, workers, and families.
An example of Robinson's work is a series of age-period-cohort analyses of obesity prevalence. These papers resulted from an interdisciplinary collaboration of sociologists, epidemiologists, and statisticians. In these papers, Robinson and colleagues demonstrated and clarified distinctions among three methods to model age, period, and cohort effects and, additionally, found that the first generation of women born during the obesity epidemic of the 1980s is experiencing disproportionate sensitivity to the obesogenic environment compared to previous generations. They hypothesize that this increased sensitivity to the obesogenic environment is due to exposures during critical periods in utero or during early childhood.
In 2011, Dr. Robinson participated in CPC's summer-in-residence grant writing workshop for early-career faculty. She also currently leads an NIH R01 to use health care data to investigate racial/ethnic differences in hysterectomy rates among young people who haven't yet gone through menopause.