Is it a biomarker, a biomeasure, or a bioindicator? Research models to organize biomedical data for demographic analysis

James W. McNally, University of Michigan
Martha Sayre, University of Michigan

The growing recognition of the importance of collecting biological and medical information along with traditional demographic and socioeconomic indicators has broadened our understanding of the relationships of biological processes on social outcomes. Many surveys have routinely collected basic variables on health such as Body Mass Index (BMI) but now we are seeing an increase in the collection of more sophisticated measures such as those derived from blood spots, plasma draws and vaginal swabs. Established projects with a biomedical focus routinely collect biomarker data because of their specific research focus. More recently the collection of biomarker information as part of socio-economic studies reflects the acceptance of this approach within mainstream social survey research. The growth in both the collection of biomarker information and the development of analytic models that incorporate biological and social information argues that our science will benefit only if we can achieve a systematic understanding of how biomarker data is collected, organized and defined so we can intelligently introduce this kine of information into our research models. This paper presents an overview of biomarkers and their applications for social research. The paper touches on how biomedical information is collected and biases that different survey design strategies introduce to collection protocols. The paper also introduces a summary of potential extensions of these data to social based research, and more importantly the language and definitional issues that create barriers that complicate collaborative research between social and physical science practitioners. When is a biomarker a biomeasure, and can we effectively use bioindicators to associate health outcomes with social behaviors? These associations exist but to more fully utilize the wealth of existing information demographers and other population researchers will have to develop our existing techniques to incorporate the exciting new resources that biomedical collections offers the science.

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Presented in Session 29: Evolutionary- and Bio-Demography