Priority Areas

Poverty, low educational attainment, and other social and economic factors are recognized as key risks for poor health across the lifespan and can be manifestations of historical and current structural racism. These “upstream” conditions are often more powerful determinants of health and disparities than biological risk factors or individual behaviors. Consequently, our research focuses on policies and other community-level interventions that target these upstream social risk factors to attain health equity at a population level. As a center within the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, we take a life course approach, examining health during the perinatal period as well as chronic disease and aging.

To conduct this research, our team specializes in the use of big data and interdisciplinary quasi-experimental methods. We link large national surveys, administrative data like birth certificates, and policy data sets. Our projects use the latest in epidemiologic and econometric analytic techniques to provide the strongest evidence about which policies work, for whom they work best, and why. We aim to develop rigorous evidence to inform policymaking to achieve health equity.


Poverty Alleviation Policies and Health

To better inform policy design and implementation, we examine how anti-poverty measures, such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, affect health.




Teacher reading to children

Education Policies and Health

Our researchers study how national, state, and local education policies and the characteristics of school districts and schools affect students’ physical and mental health.




COVID 19 Social Distancing SignCOVID-19 Pandemic Policies and Health

The SPHERE Center is working to document local U.S. COVID-19 era policies to better understand how policy variation and implementation have influenced health and health disparities.




Child in playgroundSafety Net Policies and Health

Our research examines whether receipt of safety net supports, like food assistance and paid family leave, can improve health for children and adults.




Rows of houses from aboveNeighborhood Disadvantage and Health

Neighborhoods are a key determinant of health. We look at the relationship between neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and health across the lifespan.