Graduate School of Public Health

Toward Understanding and Reducing Health Disparities within the LGBT Community

Dr. Heather Corliss
Dr. Heather Corliss

Professor Heather Corliss is part of the GSPH Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science. She serves as one of the two directors of the Center for Research on Sexuality and Sexual Health Center (SASH). SASHs goal is to reduce disparities and inequities related to sexuality and sexual health. They conduct multidisciplinary, community-engaged, and collaborative research, training, and health promotion focusing on diverse priority populations. Many of their research projects concentrate on the LGBT community. This fits nicely with SDSUs goal of being an inclusive campus. The Campus Pride Index recently ranked SDSU on its 2016 “Best of the Best” Top 30 list of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. SDSU has been included in this ranking for the past seven years.

Dr. Corliss earned both her PhD in Epidemiology and a Master’s degree in Community Health Science from UCLA. She joined GSPH in the fall of 2013. Before coming to SDSU, Dr. Corliss was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School/Boston Children’s Hospital in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital where she received advanced training in health disparities and adolescent health research.

After finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, Corliss moved to San Francisco and found a job in HIV research at the University of California, San Francisco, studying the virus’ multitude of strains. She enjoyed the work, but wanted to help people in a more holistic way than focusing on a single disease. “I didn’t start out thinking I wanted to study LGBT health, but that’s where my path took me,” Corliss said. “Experiences in my public health graduate training led me to believe that this was an area where I could make a positive difference,” she explained.

As she began her research, Corliss realized, “There was a disconnect between what health professionals were providing and the needs of the community they were trying to serve. I knew then I was where I wanted to be.”

One of her current first research projects funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at SDSU focused on substance abuse among LGBT youth. Sadly, youth in the LGBT community are more susceptible to substance abuse and dependence, as well as mental health difficulties. These issues cause enormous financial and social burden, disease and death. However, there was almost no empirical investigations among youth that would enable researchers and clinicians to understand patterns and causes of these sexual-orientation disparities or to identify the barriers to receiving needed treatment and their treatment experiences. This creates huge knowledge gaps in understanding which subpopulations of sexual-minority youths are most at risk for substance use disorders, their barriers to receiving needed treatment, and effective treatment approaches.

Dr. Corliss and her research team
Dr. Corliss and her research team

Another one of Corliss’s current research projects focuses on Type 2 (T2D) diabetes. Lesbian and bisexual women have may have a higher risk for diabetes, perhaps because they are more likely than heterosexual women to experience obesity and other risk fac-tors linked with T2D such as cigarette smoking, violence victimization, and depressive distress. However, there were no studies with longitudinal designs to investigate how incidence of T2D may differ between lesbian/bisexual and heterosexual women. Analytic epidemiological studies examining how sexual-orientation disparities in risk factors for T2D may contribute to lesbian/bisexual women’s disparities in occurrence of T2D are also nonexistent. Corliss’ research is trying to correct this lack of information, with the eventual goal of finding solutions. She received a large research grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in order to pursue this research.

Corliss notes, “We tend to see a lot of negative health outcomes in younger LGBT people, but then these disparities lessen as they get older. A critical window for interventions is during adolescence and young adulthood. But we wouldn’t know that if we didn’t do this research.”

Over the past three years, Corliss has improved the quality and interdisciplinary nature of research in SDSU’s health research programs. “Dr. Corliss’ presence at SDSU has helped me see that the work we are doing in Latino health disparities is relevant to other populations,” said Dr. Guadalupe. “Suchi” Ayala, associate dean for research in the College of Health and Human Services. “The effects of discrimination do similar things to our bodies, whether we are being discrimi-nated against because of our sexual orientation or the color of our skin. Together, we are now trying to determine if the ways to reduce health disparities related to sexuality and ethnicity are similar.”

Welcome New Director Dr. Hala Madanat

Hala Madanat
Hala Madanat

Dr. Hala Madanat is a Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science and joined the SDSU faculty in 2008. She is core-investigator of Institute for Behavioral and Community Health. Her research focuses on the impact of westernization on diet and nutrition and has been working on developing nutrition education programs that emphasize health and biological hunger. Dr. Madanat currently co-leads the planning and evaluation core of the SDSU/UCSD Comprehensive Cancer Partnership which aims to reduce cancer disparities among Latinos in San Diego and Imperial Counties. She is also involved in a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) grant aimed at enhancing the education of primary care providers, other geriatric team professionals, paid and family caregivers, and the general public about best practices in caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Dr. Madanat received her PhD in Sociology (2006) and an MS in Community Health (2001) from Brigham Young University. She received her BSc in Biological Sciences from the University of Jordan in 2000.