RESEARCH: Dr Gwenetta Curry - race and health inequalities
The journey from North Carolina to the UK has been a long one for Dr Gwenetta Curry – in career terms as much as miles.
She started out as a food science student before working in industry. This gave her direct insights into key issues like the immense difference in nutritional values between the premium and budget ranges (eaten by poorer customers) made by one of her employers.
Gwenetta returned to the academic world where she developed expertise in medical sociology and is now Lecturer of Race, Ethnicity and Health at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. Not only that, but she has a monthly column in The Scotsman newspaper and has been interviewed by major national media including Channel 4 News for insights on issues such as Covid-19 and race inequalities.
Gwenetta recognised the value of large-scale data while she was studying the causes of obesity in African American women for her PhD at Texas A&M University. Census data and health records allowed her to push beyond assumptions that improved educational standards were a silver bullet for obesity. Instead she identified that the picture was far more complex and linked to a multitude of social and economic pressures and disadvantages.
In 2019 Gwenetta was awarded a fellowship in Edinburgh to use her skills as a health data scientist to study the relationship between race and health inequality. This came to the fore with the Covid pandemic. Gwenetta was astonished to find that official information on its impact was broken down in terms of age and sex, but initially lacked any information about race.
Her own research rapidly showed that there was a clear link, not least because many people from ethnic minorities were doing the jobs that kept society running, had little less access to furlough, government support and could not afford to take time off. They were also sometimes among the last to get adequate PPE. In some cases there was evidence of active discrimination.
Research carried out by Gwenetta and others, using data accessible through HDR UK, exposed how the pandemic affects different groups in society and, while the problem has not been solved, there has been some positive action and there is a great deal more awareness.
Gwenetta has also been working as part of the UNCOVER (Usher Network for COVID-19 Evidence Reviews) group to address the racial and ethnic variation in COVID-19 incidence and mortality. On top of this she is highly active in a variety of groups and organisations where she is using large scale data to tackle inequality. This includes working with trainee doctors to ensure that from the start of their careers they will have an effective understanding of the links between ethnicity and health in UK society.
Gwenetta’s career path:
- BSc in Food Science, North Carolina A&T State University
- MSc in Dairy Science, South Illinois University Carbondale
- Product developer in the food industry
- PhD in Medical Sociology, Texas A&M University, sociology department
- Lecturer in Racial Health Inequalities, University of Alabama
- Lecturer of Race, Ethnicity and Health, University of Edinburgh Usher Institute.