Nationhood Lab director addresses National Academies working group on how U.S. regional cultures influence health outcomes and disparities

October 2, 2023

WASHINGTON – The director of Salve Regina University’s Nationhood Lab presented on the project’s utility in understanding U.S. health outcomes at a working group of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Sept. 27.

Colin Woodard, who directs the project at the Salve’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, addressed members of the Academies’ Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, a working group of the Academies that explores efforts to reduce the impact of obesity and related health disparities. Woodard and co-presenter Ross Arena, a physiologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, also outlined findings in a recent paper on regional differences in obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity published in the academic journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.

“I’m here to introduce an essential framework for understanding recurrent geospatial patterns in a wide range of phenomena in American life, past and present, a framework that maps the dominant post-Conquest regional cultures of our continent,” Woodard told the audience at the Academies’ Keck Center. “These regional cultures influence politics, demography, social determinants of health and health outcomes, including obesity.”

Woodard fielded questions from members of the working group, which includes experts in public health and clinical care, officials from major drug companies, food processors and retailers, government and philanthropies. He described the Balkanized nature of the U.S, first laid out in one of his books, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and showed how they explain geographic differences in life expectancy, Covid-19 and gun deaths, vaccination rates, obesity and other health-related phenomena.

This summer, Woodard co-authored four health-related academic papers using the American Nations model, part of an ongoing research collaboration probing the cultural and political determinants of health.

Nationhood Lab, based at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, is an interdisciplinary research, writing, testing and dissemination project focused on counteracting the authoritarian threat to American democracy and the centrifugal forces threatening the federation’s stability. The project delivers more effective tools with which to describe and defend the American liberal democratic tradition and better understand the forces undermining it.