We All Live Here
We have the unprecedented technological ability to study health and human behavior at a time when our communities are becoming increasingly diverse and complex. The things we can learn and the ways we can use that knowledge to help people thrive are revolutionary.
Despite these advances, many children in Central Texas aren’t thriving.
Children enter the world with tremendous potential, but early adversity can derail it. Although everyone experiences hardships, extreme or prolonged exposure to stress can lead to lifelong challenges. Those stressors can include poverty, family separation, exposure to violence, abuse, or experiencing discrimination.
For many children, these adverse childhood experiences take a serious toll on their biological systems, increasing the chance of physical and mental health problems as well as school failure, unemployment, and shorter life expectancy.
However, despite the experience of adversity, some children will thrive — what we call resilience. We don’t know all the reasons why some children are more resilient than others, but access to supportive relationships can play a protective role.
What else may shield children from risk so they all can thrive?
To find out, we’re doing things differently. We’re meeting families in their homes and neighborhoods. We’re welcoming them as engaged, contributing community scientists — finding answers to their questions and sharing results with them in real time.
Our Goal: Community-Engaged Research
When scientists want to learn about a group of people, they design what’s known as a cohort study. This is a way of observing similar people — a cohort — over time to learn about them. But the tried-and-true way of designing these studies has severe limitations, especially for the very people who most need our help.
Here’s why: Scientists recruit people to participate in a study, take samples, and ask questions. Then, they seem to disappear. There’s a gap between when scientists have results from a study and when participants find out about those results, if ever.
Additionally, many groups, especially the most vulnerable, are underrepresented in traditional research, which means we often lack data that accurately reflect our varied communities. Whole Communities–Whole Health wants to change this.
Our goal: Make sure that the most cutting-edge advances in behavioral and health science reach the children and families who need them the most.
Our Plan: Bringing Science Home
Traditional research studies take “snapshots” of people’s lives at different points in time. Those snapshots give us information, but it’s incomplete. That means we might make incorrect assumptions or develop policies and interventions that are not helpful. But through a combination of biological tracking, environmental sensors, and behavioral monitoring, we will have a more complete view — a movie, compared to a snapshot — of the factors that affect a child’s wellbeing. We’ll do this by working with families to figure out what questions they have and then by bringing the most advanced technology into their homes to help get the answers they need. Just as important, families will be able to log on to a secure website to access their information, learn about their health, and find community resources that can help them make improvements.
Using science to transform lives is the beacon that will guide the work of Whole Communities–Whole Health.
Blood samples, cheek swabs and baby teeth give clues about a child’s health history.
Wearable tech monitors sleep, circadian rhythm, activity type, and heart rate.
Home sensors will measure water quality, air quality, and mold and bacteria levels.
Apps will help people track their emotions, experiences, and daily interactions.
Meet the Team
Whole Community–Whole Health brings researchers and advisors together from wide-ranging backgrounds across UT and Central Texas.
My research focuses on community-engaged research and practice projects that build on ideas elicited from community colleagues from Austin, Travis County and Central Texas.
My background is in clinical neuropsychology, and I specialize in applying multimodal neuroimaging techniques to study normal and impaired cognition, including aging, neurotrauma, and mental illness.
As a roboticist and building scientist, I focus on smart buildings and cities, renewable energy systems, and the influence of occupants on energy performance.
I am a developmental psychologist focusing on adolescent health risk behavior and developing prevention and intervention programs for substance abuse, teen pregnancy prevention, and mental health.
My research focuses on using traditional and new digital media to provide effective health communication in areas such as tobacco cessation and opioid overdose prevention.
I am an epidemiologist and clinical scientist with research exploring the prevention and clinical decision-making of child maltreatment, injury surveillance, and best clinical practices.
I’m trained as an environmental engineer focusing on human exposure to contaminants in the built environment (homes and schools) and health outcomes such as childhood asthma.
As a public health nurse, my research experience includes tracking and addressing health and social disparities among adolescents from historically marginalized groups.
My research explores how life experiences lead to behavioral and neurobiological variation through epigenetic factors, particularly early exposure to stress, toxins, nutrition and social environment.
My background is in exercise physiology and pedagogy, and my research focuses on how physiology and metabolism affect cognitive health in children and emerging adults.
Sarah Kate Bearman
I’m a child clinical psychologist, and my research focuses on the implementation and dissemination of effective mental health interventions for traditionally underserved children and families.
I am a mixed-methods researcher focusing on youth suicide, child maltreatment, childhood adversity, injury prevention, and pediatric trauma.