VanKim to Investigate Stress and Sexual Orientation Disparities in Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Among Women

Nicole VanKim
Nicole VanKim

Assistant professor of epidemiology Nicole VanKim has received a four-year, $600,000 early career development award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to investigate physiologic stress and sexual orientation disparities in risk for Type 2 diabetes among women. Early career awards provide support and protected time for an intensive, supervised career development experience leading to research independence.

VanKim plans to utilize longitudinal data from women in the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort, one of the largest and best-known investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. Using a combination of survey data and biomarker data, she will examine how psychologic, biologic, and behavioral factors may contribute to documented sexual orientation disparities in development of type 2 diabetes. She will also launch a new study, the Pioneer Valley Stress Study, which will establish a new cohort of women to examine how chronic stress, measured using physiologic biomarkers as well as survey data, contributes to sexual orientation disparities in development of insulin resistance (a risk factor for type 2 diabetes). While data from the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort provides valuable information on general risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the Pioneer Valley Stress Study hones in on specific factors related to chronic stress that may explain sexual orientation disparities in risk for type 2 diabetes.

VanKim hopes the findings will reveal the specific stress pathways that contribute to sexual orientation disparities and allow for the development of evidence-based public health efforts and targeted intervention strategies to reduce type 2 diabetes risk among sexual minority women.

A UMass Amherst faculty member since 2016, VanKim specializes in LGBT health, including sexual orientation disparities in weight-related behaviors, such as physical activity, sedentary behaviors, and eating habits, with the goal of reducing chronic disease disparities and improving the health of sexual minority women.

VanKim’s NIH award is a mentored grant and will pair her with faculty mentor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, chair of health promotion and policy and professor of epidemiology. The grant also provides for training on molecular and biomarker epidemiology, physiology, endocrinology and metabolism that will allow her to obtain a unique combination of knowledge and skills possessed by few researchers who focus on chronic diseases in sexual minority health.