APHA national meeting features UMBC leadership in social and policy dimensions of health research

UMBC took center stage as more than 13,000 public health professionals gathered in Chicago for the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting, November 1-4, 2015. President Freeman Hrabowski presented the keynote address, which examined the conference theme “Health in All Policies” and highlighted UMBC’s national leadership in research related to the social and policy dimensions of health.

“You and I together, we have the responsibility of helping the general public [recognize the core importance of] this notion of public health,” President Hrabowski asserted during his opening remarks.

His talk focused on the need to understand and address the social determinants of health, and touched on the impact of UMBC’s interdisciplinary public health and health equity research. In the days that followed, faculty, staff, students and alumni from several UMBC social sciences departments and research centers presented important new insights in their fields.

Kevin Eckert, professor and chair of sociology and anthropology, and acting director of the health administration and policy program (HAPP), observed the connections between discussions of research on the social determinants of health and issues of social justice throughout the conference.

The APHA annual meeting established three central themes for future research in public health. “Health equity” refers to striving for the highest possible standard of health for all people, with special attention given to those at greatest risk of poor health. “Health in all policies” emphasizes that health is an important dimension of nearly all social policy. Through “generation public health,” APHA argues that significant improvements in public health can and should be achieved quickly, in a generation.

“There are social, cultural, and psychological dimensions to future policy directions related to public health,” Eckert explains. “Studying the social determinants of health is a national priority, and UMBC has tremendous strengths in these areas.”

UMBC’s department of sociology and anthropology is known particularly for its research on interventions to improve quality of life and the functional abilities of people with chronic disease and disability, reproductive health, social and economic determinants of fertility, and maternal and child health. The department-based Center for Aging Studies conducts large-scale community research in Maryland, including recent studies on the efficacy of programming at adult day services centers and the subjective experience of diabetes among urban adults.

Researchers in the UMBC School of Public Policy apply an interdisciplinary approach to studying public health and health equity. Drawing from fields such as sociology, psychology, political science, and statistics, faculty investigate a range of issues related to public health and recommend policies to encourage healthier behaviors and prevent poor health outcomes. Projects include examining the environmental impacts of lead poisoning on children and the role of Medicare and Social Security in improving the quality of life for adults with disabilities.

The doctoral program in gerontology, jointly offered by UMBC and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), provides an interdisciplinary and integrative perspective on the process and experiences of aging.

The APHA meeting highlighted several of these research areas.

Professor Nancy Miller, public policy, participated in a career development roundtable and presented her research related to disability and long-term care health policies among older adult populations. “My work fits closely with the theme of health equity,” explains Miller.

“I have had a longstanding interest in understanding state-level variation in Medicaid support for community-based long-term services and supports, both across states for a given group such as older adults, and within states for multiple groups, such as older adults versus individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Charles Cange, visiting lecturer in HAPP, served as a panel moderator and presented five papers within his two research focus areas of post-conflict health and HIV/AIDS prevention in at-risk populations. He shared his research on understanding the impact of the Gulf War on community perceptions of cancer risk in Kuwait and the role of stigma and alienation on HIV treatment in Burkina Faso.

Public policy doctoral student Shariece Johnson received an Excellence in Program Planning Award. She served as program chair for the Community Health Planning and Policy Development section of the APHA.

Jamie Trevitt, assistant professor, and Andrea Kalfoglou, associate professor, both in the HAPP program, also represented UMBC. Kalfoglou participated in discussions on the lack of e-cigarette regulation and manufacturers’ marketing to children. Trevitt’s discussions focused on disparities in prenatal care, contraceptive access and counseling, and birth outcomes.

“In public health, it is important not only to do rigorous research, but to translate findings into policy and towards advocacy,” shares Trevitt. “I always leave this conference very excited to work in this growing field and educate the next generation of public health researchers and practitioners.”

Read more about the robust health policy research and education across disciplines in UMBC’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Visit the APHA website for more information about the 2015 Annual Meeting, and view President Hrabowski’s complete keynote address in the video below.

Image: UMBC Public Policy Building. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.