Embracing Causal Complexity in Health Disparities: Metabolic Syndemics and Structural Prevention in Rural Minority Communities Academic Article uri icon


  • Chronic discrimination and associated socioeconomic inequalities have shaped the health and well-being of Black Americans. As a consequence of the intersection of these factors with rural deprivation, rural Black Americans live and work in particularly pathogenic environments that generate disproportionate and interacting chronic comorbidities (syndemics) compared to their White and/or urban counterparts. Traditional prevention research has been unable to fully capture the underlying complexity of rural minority health and has generated mostly low-leverage interventions that have failed to reverse adverse metabolic outcomes among rural Black Americans. In contrast, novel research approaches-such as system dynamics modeling-that seek to understand holistic system structure and determine complex health outcomes over time provide a robust framework to develop a more accurate understanding of the key factors contributing to type 2 diabetes. This framework can then be used to establish more efficacious interventions to address disparities among minorities in rural areas. This paper advocates for a unified complex systems epistemology and methodology in advancing rural minority health disparities research. Toward this goal, we (1) provide an overview of rural Black American metabolic health research, (2) introduce a complex systems framework in rural minority health disparities research, and (3) demonstrate how community-based system dynamics modeling and simulation can help us plow new ground in rural minority health disparities research and action. We anticipate that this paper can serve as a catalyst for a long-overdue discourse on the relevance of complex systems approaches in minority health research, with practical benefits for numerous disproportionately burdened communities.

author list (cited authors)

  • Apostolopoulos, Y., Lemke, M. K., Hosseinichimeh, N., Harvey, I. S., Lich, K. H., & Brown, J.

citation count

  • 3

publication date

  • June 2018