The core of Dr. Sorensen’s research is randomized community and worksite studies that test the effectiveness of theory-driven interventions targeting individual and organizational change. Her research has focused particularly on redressing disparities in cancer risk. She has designed and tested interventions for low-income and multi-ethnic populations – including blue-collar and service workers – that are embedded in the social context of people’s lives.
Dr. Sorensen is the Director and Principal Investigator (PI) for the Harvard Chan Center for Work, Health and Well-being, funded since 2007, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through its Total Worker Health® Program. The Center focuses on protecting and promoting worker safety, health and wellbeing through improved conditions of work. In research first funded in 1989, Dr. Sorensen and her research team were among the first to demonstrate that the integration of occupational health and safety with worksite health promotion can significantly enhance health behavior change among blue-collar workers. Since then, her research team has designed and tested integrated interventions across a range of industries, including manufacturing, construction, health care, social service, and transportation, and with small and large worksites, in over a dozen large-scale trials. This research has focused particularly on low-wage and blue-collar workers, among whom on-the-job risks and risk-related behaviors are especially prevalent. This research has repeatedly demonstrated that a systems approach integrating occupational safety and health with other workplace initiatives related to worker health has benefits for improved occupational health and safety, and improvements in worker health and safety behaviors. Her training in occupational sociology has provided a platform for her focus on the work organization and environment from a systems perspective.
Dr. Sorensen has conducted a series of tobacco control studies in India since 2003, in collaboration with the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health in Mumbai. There is a profound need for evidence-based interventions that promote tobacco control on a large scale, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In India in 2010 alone, tobacco use accounted for over 1 million deaths. In the Bihar School Teachers Study, she and her colleagues demonstrated the efficacy of a tobacco use cessation intervention for school teachers in the state of Bihar. Dr. Sorensen leads research funded by the National Cancer Institute that aims to identify effective strategies for broad-based implementation of evidence-based tobacco control interventions using existing organizational infrastructures and accommodating the realities of low-resource settings.