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Intern Sbarra wins 2nd place award at 8th Annual Summer Research Expo

July 30, 2014

Alyssa N. Sbarra, a mathematics and sociology major at Villanova University and research assistant during her summer internship in UAB’s Department of Biostatistics, won 2nd place in the Social, Behavioral Sciences, and Public Health category at the recent UAB Summer Research Expo, a yearly event that showcases the research produced by UAB undergraduates as well as students in summer research programs.

Her prizewinning poster examined the effect of insurance acquisition on trajectories of self-reported physical activity among uninsured older adults. Given that previous research indicates a beneficial effect of Medicare acquisition on health trajectories among the continuously uninsured, Ms. Sbarra and her fellow investigators expected to find similar positive trends in physical activity, as improved access to medical care may encourage or even allow for an increase in such activity. 

A key strength of the research is its quasi-experimental design, reducing potential biases due to selection effects (i.e., people with healthier behaviors are more likely to have health insurance). Using data obtained through the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS), individuals were included in the analysis if between 2004 to 2012 they had turned 65, the age at which everyone is granted access to insurance regardless of previous insurance or employment and other behaviors.

The researchers did not find a relationship between insurance acquisition and physical activity among the continuously uninsured, concluding that insurance acquisition and access to health care likely have more disease-specific effects. Noting that a limitation of this research was the use of self-reported physical activity, they are currently using objectively measured physical activity to supplement findings from the HRS.