Linking biological and social pathways to adolescent health


 Dr. Jodi Ford, College of Nursing
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor


Research across disciplines provides strong evidence that exposure to chronic stress contributes to risk behaviors and poor physical and mental health outcomes across the life course. Consequently, large-scale population studies have increasingly integrated the collection of biomarkers of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity (e.g. cortisol) to investigate the extent to which the neuroendocrine pathway explicates the role of chronic stress in shaping poor health outcomes and racial/ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. However, few population studies have collected stress biomarkers from adolescents and among those that have, significant methodological challenges ultimately hampered data quality. Therefore, the purpose of this seed grant proposal is to field test an innovative protocol for the collection of non-invasive longitudinal stress biomarkers from adolescents via nightly measures of salivary cortisol for 6 nights, one hair sample for cortisol, and a salivary sample for Epstein-Barr virus DNA.

This pilot study will be conducted in conjunction with the pilot testing of the NIH-funded Adolescent Health and Development in Context study (PI Browning, 1R01DA032371-01), which examines the impact of spatial and social exposures on substance use, risky sexual activity, violence, victimization, and mental health outcomes among 4,000 adolescents aged 11-17 years in Franklin County, OH. The sample for both pilot studies will consist of approximately 50 adolescents (25 adolescents sampled from a low income census tract and 25 from a higher income census tract). This pilot study will examine the data collection and biological assay protocol and include preliminary analyses of the relationships between the chronic stress biomarkers and key adolescent characteristics (e.g. sociodemographics, stressful events, risk behavior). The findings of this pilot study will inform a larger data collection project to determine if collection of these measures is feasible and informative in a population of adolescents across a spectrum of social risk for impaired health.

Publications resulting from this seed grant

2019. Ford, Jodi L., Samantha J. Boch*, and Christopher R. Browning. “Hair Cortisol and Depressive Symptoms in Youth: An Investigation of Curvilinear Relationships.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 109:104376.

2019. Schmeer, Kammi K., Jacob Tarrence, Christopher R. Browning, Catherine A. Calder, Jodi L. Ford, and Bethany Boettner. “Family Contexts and Sleep during Adolescence.” SSM - Population Health.   PMCID: PMC6293031 

2019. Schmeer, Kammi K., Jodi L. Ford, and Christopher R. Browning. “Early Childhood Family Instability and Immune System Dysregulation in Adolescence.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 102:189–95. PMCID: PMC6689237 

2018. Wright, K.D., Ford, J.L. Perrazol, J., Jones, L.M., Mahari, S., & Laudenslager, M. "Collecting hair samples for hair cortisol concentration analysis in African Americans." J Vis Exp. 2018; (136): 57288. PMCID: PMC6101699

2017. Ford, J.L. & Stowe, R. "Depressive symptoms are associated with salivary shedding of Epstein-Barr virus in female adolescents: The role of sex differences." Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86, 128-133. [E] PMCID: PMC5905709 

2016. Ford, J.L., Boch, S.J.,* & McCarthy, D. Feasibility of hair collection for cortisol measurement in population research on adolescent health. Nursing Research, 65, 249-55. PMCID: PMC4852400


Grants resulting from this seed grant

Jodi Ford (PI) Linking Biological and Social Pathways to Adolescent Health and Well-Being, R21 to NIDA, 01/01/2014-12/31/2015.

Feng, X. (PI), Wong, J. (Co-I) &Ford, J.L (Co-I). Biological and psychosocial risk factors predicting maternal depression and child mental health problems. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). April 1, 2017 –March 31, 2018. 

Schmeer, K.K. (PI), Piperata, B.A. (Co-I), Ford, J.L. (Co-I), & Browning, C.R. (Co-I) Social contexts, stress and non-communicable disease risk factors across the life course: a pilot study in Nicaragua. NIH, Fogarty International, R21,