Dr. Paul Gilbert: Researching health disparities and advancing health equity

Dr. Paul Gilbert photo

By: Katie McCullough

Dr. Paul Gilbert is an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health. He conducts research to understand and address alcohol-related disparities.

According to Gilbert, marginalized populations tend to have worse health outcomes than those who belong to various majority groups. Only through acknowledgment of this issue, and through research data to illustrate that acknowledgment, can we hope to address these disparities and work for health equity.

Here at UI, we have a diverse array of faculty who are engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion-related research. Gilbert studies health disparities among certain populations and works to address these disparities. His main area of focus is alcohol-related disparities and particularly the ways that gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation shape drinking patterns, risk for alcohol use disorders, and the use of treatment services in populations.

Gilbert describes himself as a “behavioral epidemiologist.” He uses these words because he’s mostly interested in behavior, but rather than study alcohol-related behavior in individuals, he prefers to research larger groups. He says: “I look at patterns. Who’s drinking, who’s not, who is drinking to excess, who is not, who is getting help for substance use and who isn’t. A lot of what I do is traditional public health, looking at the distribution and determinants of alcohol abuse.” By researching populations rather than individuals Gilbert can look for over-arching disparities in certain populations and develop interventions that are tailor-made for different groups of people, thus increasing the likelihood that interventions will have positive outcomes.

Through his research, for example, he has discovered that people who identify as women tend to seek help for alcohol-related disorders with less frequency than those who identify as men. Additionally, he has found through his research that the systemic discrimination faced by African Americans can also lead to stress-induced alcohol use disorders (among a plethora of other negative health outcomes). This knowledge will help public health practitioners reach out in more effective ways to the affected populations, hopefully preventing alcohol-use disorders before they start, Gilbert says.

A secondary area of research for
Gilbert focuses on improving the health of Latino communities in non-traditional settlement states, such as Iowa, through participatory, action-oriented research. Working with the West Liberty Coalition, a community-academic partnership in Iowa’s first majority-Latino rural town, Gilbert led a community survey to identify strengths and health concerns

For Gilbert, health is a basic human right, and our communities have some big steps that need to be take in order to ensure that people, regardless of their identities, are able to access any health-related help they might need. Through his research, Gilbert shines light on health disparities and inequalities and works to achieve a more equitable world.

Why is Health Equity Important?

“Reducing health inequities is important because health is a fundamental human right and its progressive realization will eliminate inequalities that result from differences in health status (such as disease or disability) in the opportunity to enjoy life and pursue one’s life plans.

A characteristic common to groups that experience health inequities—such as poor or marginalized persons, racial and ethnic minorities, and women—is lack of political, social or economic power.”
- The World Health Organization

What IS Health Equity?

Health Equity means efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives. To achieve health equity, we must understand that not everyone has equitable access to healthy choices; that we’re not all playing on an even field.

Learn More: public-health.uiowa.edu

Health Equity Graphic