My research interests focus on inequalities in health. Specifically, I am interested in researching why people engage in health-compromising behaviours--particularly sexual risk behaviour and substance use--with the aim of identifying how to design successful public health interventions. The grave effect that HIV/AIDS has had in North America and globally; the disproportionate effect that HIV/AIDS has had on youth and marginalized people such as racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and the preventability of behaviours that put one at risk of contracting HIV, have led me to focus my work in this area. The two theoretical approaches that frame much of my thinking and work are the social ecological model and resilience theory. The social ecological model posits that individual health behaviours are affected by factors at a variety of levels, from individual factors, to dyadic, group, community, institutional, political, and societal factors. Factors at different levels may also mutually influence one another. An understanding of the determinants of a particular health behaviour therefore necessitates understanding factors at all of these levels. Interventions, in turn, may be focused on any or all of these levels. A resilience theory approach emphasizes factors that play a positive or health-enhancing role, and how they can influence risk factors for negative health outcomes. In resilience research, the researcher does not simply identify negative factors that may be related to some health-damaging behaviour, as is done in risk-factor research. The researcher also studies positive factors that may offset or interact with risk factors. The goal is to shift the focus of interventions to strengthen positive factors in addition to the more traditional approach of eliminating risk factors.
I am interested in supervising graduate students with an interest in understanding HIV-related risk behaviours, particularly among youth and marginalized populations. Prospective students are expected to apply to the Ontario Graduate Scholarship programs, SSHRC, CIHR, and other agencies that fund graduate students.
Fergus, S., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2005). Adolescent resilience: A framework for understanding healthy development in the face of risk. Annual Review of Public Health, 26, 399-419.
Fergus, S., Lewis, M. A., Darbes, L., & Butterfield, R. M. (2005). HIV risk and protection among gay male couples: The role of gay community integration. Health Education and Behavior, 32(2), 151-171.
Ramirez-Valles, J., Fergus, S., Reisen, C. A., Poppen, P. J., & Zea, M. C. (2005). Confronting stigma: Community involvement and psychological well-being among HIV-positive Latino gay men. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27(1), 101-119.
Fergus, S., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. (2005). Psychosocial correlates of smoking trajectories among urban, African-American adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 20(4), 423-452.
Fergus, S., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. (Under review). Resilience and sexual risk behavior among urban adolescents: The compensatory and protective effects of mother and father support.
Fergus, S., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. (Under review). Sexual risk behavior in adolescence and the transition to young adulthood: Specification of a piecewise growth model for a predominantly African-American sample.
Fergus, S., Zimmerman, M. A., & Caldwell, C. (Under review). Growth in sexual risk behavior in adolescence and the transition to young adulthood: Psychosocial resilience among a predominantly African-American sample.