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Center Leads Campus Research into Health Disparities

September 3, 2010

Center Leads Campus Research into Health Disparities

Psychologygraduate student Chris Fradkin is ready to make an impact on the health of the San Joaquin Valley.

Fradkin, one of the four graduate students in the
Center of Excellenceon Health Disparities in Rural and Underserved Populations, is lending his expertise to the local Building Healthy Communities initiative, funded by The California Endowment. Fradkin, from Utica, New York, is helping develop policies to combat obesity in the area. Given the scope of the problem - nearly a third of children in the United States are overweight or obese - he’s advocating swift, decisive action.

“Why go slow? Santa Clara banned fast food toy promotions,” he said. “We can do it here. Why wait? The problem is at a critical mass.”

The center has four main components. There is a program for graduate students, such as Fradkin, to share their knowledge with community groups, a program for undergraduates to do hands-on research with professors, a speaker series to engage community members about health issues and a minor on public health and health disparities.

The other three
graduate studentsworking for the center are:

  • Chi-Shuo Chen, an
    engineeringstudent from Taiwan. He’s studying the biological effects of ultra-fine particles and the fate of ultra-fine particles in the environment.
  • Malgorzata Skorek, a social and
    cognitive sciencesstudent from Sopot, Poland, who will explore the effects of exposure to mass media portrayals of thinness on body satisfaction, self-esteem and perception of weight-related health risks in an ethnically diverse group of women.
  • Roger Tseng, a San Diego resident who’s studying
    quantitative systems biology, is investigating how three proteins interact to produce a stable 24-hour rhythm, which is a common biological feature in many animals and has implications for shift workers who are constantly going against their biological clocks.

The center was established with a
grantgiven to UC Merced in September 2009 by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The United States’ diversity is one of its greatest assets. However, reducing the profound disparity in health status seen in racial and ethnic minorities the San Joaquin Valley and the country represents one of its greatest challenges.

Fradkin, along with the undergraduate students working for the center, took a tour of Merced County, which exposed them to all its rural areas. He’s also begun building relationships with people in the community who he otherwise wouldn’t have met.

“I see the center building a bridge between UC Merced’s research and the local community,” Fradkin said.

Aparna Pasumarthi, an
undergraduate researcherworking in Professor
Jinah Choi’slab, was the first student to apply to the center. She sees this as an opportunity to better connect the campus with the community.

“I was really excited to hear something like this was starting up,” she said. “This program opens many doors to students.”