Spotlight: Belinda Needham

belinda needham 

Dr. Belinda Needham has been an assistant professor and social epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health since 2014. She is also the Co-Director of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health. Dr. Needham received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. 

Dr. Needham is passionate about health disparities faced by members of socially disadvantaged groups. Typically, these populations have worse mental and physical health than those who have higher social status. “My work seeks to identify, explain, and reduce racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and sexual orientation health disparities. My primary research goals are to use novel approaches to assess health disparities across the life course and to identify the social structural, psychological, behavioral, and physiological mechanisms by which social disadvantage leads to health disparities”.

In August 2017, Dr. Needham started a 5-year National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research project, which focuses on DNA methylation (DNAm) as a potential mechanism underlying racial/ethnic disparities in cardiovascular mortality. The project uses data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 1999-2002), a nationally representative population-based sample, to address three aims: (1) To quantify racial/ethnic differences in DNAm patterns, overall and by age; (2) To determine whether these differences are explained by factors already known to contribute to health disparities; and (3) To determine whether racial/ethnic disparities in cardiovascular mortality are explained by differences in DNAm patterns.

She is currently working on several projects. In a collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Smith, she is investigating how genetics and environment work together or integrate to influence health and disease. Dr. Needham is also exploring whether second-hand exposure to the Flint Water Crisis during pregnancy exacerbates racial/ethnic disparities in birth outcomes in Michigan. 

For questions about her courses or research, contact Dr. Needham at