Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk

The Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk Laboratory, led by Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley, focuses on the role of psychosocial and environmental determinants in the development of obesity and obesity-related cardiovascular risk factors and identifying intervention targets for populations most impacted by disparities in cardiovascular outcomes.

Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley

Senior Investigator Research Interests

Research Interests

It is safe to say that during the decades in which obesity has become an epidemic in the United States, the human gene pool has not been concomitantly altered. Thus, although heredity does play a role in susceptibility to obesity and obesity-related disorders, the social, behavioral, and environmental contributions cannot be overlooked if effective prevention and treatment strategies are to be designed. Dr. Powell-Wiley focuses her research on the social determinants of obesity and obesity-related cardiovascular risk factors that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Powell-Wiley's lab has three interrelated research goals. First, she and her colleagues use epidemiologic methods and geographic information systems to understand the socioeconomic, psychosocial, and environmental factors that promote adverse weight gain and incident cardiovascular risk factors in multi-ethnic, population-based cohorts. Environmental factors include the level of built-in resources available to a community, but they also encompass psychosocial factors such as perceptions of neighborhood environment. A second goal is to translate findings from these epidemiologic studies into community-based interventions targeting barriers to health behavior change for at-risk populations. The research group's final goal is to identify and characterize physiologic pathways influenced by the chronic stress of living in adverse neighborhood conditions, ultimately elucidating pathways linked to cardiovascular risk phenotypes and most responsive to targeted health behavior interventions.

As an advocate and physician scientist, Dr. Powell-Wiley has spearheaded the development of a community-based cardiovascular health behavior intervention in the greater Washington D.C. area, specifically addressing key social determinants of obesity. Dr. Powell-Wiley has made it a priority to target specific Washington D.C. wards where obesity and cardiovascular disease are most prevalent. She has intentionally built relationships with key leaders in the community, especially within the faith-based community, in order to advocate for and help implement programs involving these populations.

In the winter of 2022, Dr. Powell-Wiley and her team opened the Hope Center, a community-based research space in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 5 (Northeast), where she and her team see participants in clinical trials and conduct community outreach. The Hope Center brings clinical research directly to the community helping alleviate the challenges many research participants have getting to research sites far from their homes. The NHLBI partnered with a housing community to create the Hope Center, where Dr. Powell-Wiley’s team shares space with several collaborators, including the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and the NIH Clinical Center.

The Powell-Wiley lab is grounded in the principles of community-based participatory research which aided in designing and executing the Washington, D.C. Cardiovascular Health and Needs Assessment. The information gathered from this assessment has been paramount in learning about the population in order to: 1) implement culturally relevant, effective interventions which address the unique needs of individuals living in urban, limited-resource environments and 2) begin to uncover mechanisms by which psychosocial and environmental factors "get under the skin" to increase cardiovascular risk.

One-size-fits-all public health approaches to the obesity epidemic have not proven effective. Dr. Powell-Wiley's hope is that by taking a multidisciplinary approach to better understanding socioeconomic, psychosocial, and environmental factors that impact obesity and other markers of cardiovascular risk, she can develop interventions to improve cardiovascular health that are tailored to community-based environments.

Clinical Trials and Studies

Adult, Older Adult
All Genders
Accepting Healthy Volunteers
Are you a black man or women who has obesity and lives in Washington D.C.? This study aims to understand the health and health needs of people in predominately black churches in Washington, D.C. This information will help researchers design programs to improve heart health in these communities. To participate in this study, you must be between 19 and 85 years old and attend one of the churches in the study. This study is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Adult, Older Adult
Accepting Healthy Volunteers
Are you an African American woman at risk for diabetes? This study is testing whether using mobile health technology, such as smartphone apps and activity monitors, can help increase physical activity in African American women who are at risk for diabetes. To participate in this study, you must be an African American woman between 25 and 75 years old, have evidence of insulin resistance, and live in Prince George’s County, Maryland, or Ward 5, 7, or 8 in Washington, D.C. This study is located in Bethesda, Maryland.
Accepting Healthy Volunteers
Are you a healthy adult woman living in Washington, DC, and interested in helping researchers learn about heart disease? This study is exploring differences in stress and exercise habits among women who live in different areas of the city. To participate in this study, you must be a healthy woman between the ages of 19 and 45 living in Washington, DC, wards 3 or 5 with access to a smartphone. This study takes place in Washington, DC, and Maryland.

Featured Documents

Meet the Team

Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley

Tiffany Powell-Wiley, M.D., M.P.H.

Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator

Tiffany Powell-Wiley graduated summa cum laude from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. During medical school, she spent a year at the NIH as a research fellow in the Clinical Research Training Program. Dr. Powell-Wiley graduated from Duke University School of Medicine and completed her Master's degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining NIH, Dr. Powell-Wiley completed internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and cardiology fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Powell-Wiley served two years as a clinical research fellow in the Reynolds Cardiovascular Research Center at UTSW. Dr. Powell-Wiley also served for one year as the Cardiology division's first chief fellow. From 2011 to 2017, Dr. Powell-Wiley was an Assistant Clinical Investigator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. From 2011-2014, she held a joint appointment in the Office of the Associate Director of the Applied Research Program of the National Cancer Institute. Since 2017, Dr. Powell-Wiley has been an Earl Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator with a joint appointment in the Cardiovascular Branch of the Division of Intramural Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Billy Collins

Billy Collins, DHSc, PA-C

CDR, U.S. Public Health Service
Nithya Vijayakumar

Nithya Vijayakumar, B.S.

Medical Research Scholars Fellow
Sam Neally

Sam Neally, B.A.

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow
Kaveri Curlin

Kaveri Curlin, B.S.

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow
Kosuke Tamura

Kosuke Tamura, Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Fellow
Cristhian Gutierrez Huerta

Cristhian Gutierrez Huerta, B.S.

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow
Yvonne Baumer

Yvonne Baumer, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist