Connecting the social and built environment to health and health inequalities

Kate Duchowny

Research Assistant Professor, Social Environment and Health Program

I am a social epidemiologist and research investigator in the Social Environment and Health Program at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. My overarching research goal seeks to bridge the social, environmental, and biological determinants of musculoskeletal health and physical functioning in older adults to inform interventions. My current research is organized around two lines of inquiry: 1) Identifying which aspects of the built and social environment matter most in helping older adults maintain independence and physical mobility, and 2) Examining life course sociobiologic mechanisms (e.g., viral infections, mitochondrial function) that drive disparate outcomes in physical disability especially related to neighborhoods.

Research Projects

Examining the role of the neighborhood environment on muscle function in older adults

(NIH/NIA K99 AG066846)

Poor muscle function is a pressing public health problem as half of all U.S. older adults meet criteria for muscle weakness. The goal of this project is to identify which features of the neighborhood environment are related to muscle function, physical activity and mitochondrial health in older adults. This study’s findings will enhance our understanding of what social and biologic risk factors matter most for muscle function and could be targets for future interventions.

A National Neighborhood Data Resource to Understand Inequities in the Health and Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 in the United States

(NIH/NINR; U01NR020556)

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unequally felt by individuals and communities across the United States. To understand these patterns, we will create, integrate, and share data on neighborhood characteristics, both before and since the pandemic, that can be readily linked to existing survey or cohort studies at various levels of geography. This national neighborhood data (NANDA) resource will support the scientific community in understanding the mechanisms that may convey risk and resilience, particularly in underserved and vulnerable populations, and will allow us to more effectively prepare for the next public health emergency.


  • Yang Y, Sims KD, Lane NE, Duchowny KA, Torres JM. Perceived neighborhood characteristics and later-life pain outcomes: evidence from the Health and Retirement Study. J Aging Health. 2024;36(3-4):246-256. doi:10.1177/08982643231185382
  • Noppert GA, Duchowny KA, Stebbins R, Aiello AE, Dowd JB, Clarke P. Biological expressions of early life trauma in the immune system of older adults. PLoS One. 2023;18(6):e0286141. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0286141
  • Ackley SF, Zimmerman SC, Flatt JD, Riley AR, Sevelius J, Duchowny KA. Discordance in chromosomal and self-reported sex in the UK Biobank: implications for transgender- and intersex-inclusive data collection. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2023;120(18):e2218700120. doi:10.1073/pnas.2218700120
  • Mau T, Lui LY, Distefano G,…Duchowny KA, et al. Mitochondrial energetics in skeletal muscle are associated with leg power and cardiorespiratory fitness in the study of muscle, mobility and aging. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2023;78(8):1367-1375. doi:10.1093/gerona/glac238
  • Noppert GA, Duchowny KA, Clarke PJ. Declining US life expectancy since COVID-19-structural inequities foreshadow future fallout. BMJ. 2022;378:o2249. Published 2022 Sep 16. doi:10.1136/bmj.o2249
  • Chen YH, Riley AR, Duchowny KA, et al. COVID-19 mortality and excess mortality among working-age residents in California, USA, by occupational sector: a longitudinal cohort analysis of mortality surveillance data. Lancet Public Health. 2022;7(9):e744-e753. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(22)00191-8
  • Chen YH, Matthay EC, Chen R,…Duchowny KA, et al. Excess mortality in california by education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Am J Prev Med. 2022;63(5):827-836. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2022.06.020
  • Yang Y, Swinnerton K, Portacolone E, Allen IE, Torres JM, Duchowny KA. Difficulties with activities of daily living and receipt of care among older adults with cognitive impairment: differences between those living alone and those living with others. J Alzheimers Dis. 2022;89(1):31-37. doi:10.3233/JAD-220172
  • Duchowny KA, Ackley SF, Brenowitz WD, et al. Associations between handgrip strength and dementia risk, cognition, and neuroimaging outcomes in the UK Biobank Cohort Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(6):e2218314. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.18314
  • Wallace J, Lollo A, Duchowny KA, Lavallee M, Ndumele CD. Disparities in health care spending and utilization among Black and White medicaid enrollees. JAMA Health Forum. 2022;3(6):e221398. doi:10.1001/jamahealthforum.2022.1398