UB Sociologist Receives Major Grant to Study the Demography of Chronic Pain


BUFFALO, N.Y. – Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, an associate professor of sociology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $1.05 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health, to develop a comprehensive research program in the demography of chronic pain.

The program will use data from the U.S. and peer countries to investigate population-level patterns and trends in chronic pain; examine links between pain, disablement and mortality; and identify individual-level and contextual factors that shape the burden of pain and social disparities in pain.

Chronic pain is among the world’s most common, costly and disabling health problems, yet it has received little research attention from demographers working on U.S. population health.

“This neglect is surprising given pain’s high prevalence, and its strong links to disability and death,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.

By some estimates, the United States has the highest prevalence of pain among adults living in industrialized nations, with 20-30% of the country’s adult population reporting moderate or severe chronic pain. That figure will likely rise as the current population ages.

But it’s not only older adults being affected.

U.S. pain prevalence has been rising at a rate of 2-3% for all age groups over the last 25 years.

“Pain is implicated in many of the country’s most troubling health trends, including the opioid epidemic, rising suicide rates, increasing mid-life disability and mortality, and growing educational inequalities in health and mortality,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “It is arguably impossible to understand contemporary American health and well-being without understanding chronic pain.”

Grol-Prokopczyk is a medical sociologist and an expert on the sociology of chronic pain, and will serve as principal investigator on the five-year NIA-funded project.

In collaboration with co-investigators Anna Zajacova (Western University, Ontario) and Zachary Zimmer (Mount Saint Vincent University), she will build on the team’s previous research on pain measurement, pain trends, pain’s social distribution, and pain’s consequences.

Additional aims include analyzing how both individual-level and national- or state-level factors contribute to observed pain patterns; investigating pain’s role in the onset and progression of disability; and examining the psychological, behavioral and therapeutic mechanisms linking pain and mortality.

“This is an exciting opportunity to greatly expand our understanding of a common, consequential but understudied health problem at the population level,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.