Population Health

May 18, 2018

Awardees announced for undergraduate research recognition awards

Undergraduate Recognition AwardThe Population Health Initiative has awarded Population Health Recognition Awards to 12 students participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

This award was created in partnership with the Undergraduate Research Program and was open to students from all three campuses who are presenting at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 18. Awardees were selected for their innovative and well-presented population health research work.

More than 100 applications were received for this award, which were reviewed by a panel of judges convened by the Population Health Initiative. The 12 awardees, their majors and their projects are:

Elizabeth George and Thanika Painruttanasukho (Industrial Engineering), Last Mile Humanitarian Aid Logistics in Africa

Distribution of humanitarian aid is an essential part of improving population health globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that childhood immunization is a proven tool for eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert up to three million deaths every year. This is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to improve human health, one of the major pillars of the UW Health Initiative, because it can be made accessible to the most rural and vulnerable populations through effective distribution.

Our research focus is on optimizing the immunization supply chain (iSC) in countries that do not have the resources available to obtain 100% vaccination for children. Our mathematical optimization focus is on distributing the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis containing vaccines (DTP3) to rural areas in Africa. This is challenging due to the many constraints on resources, such as refrigeration needed for certain vaccines and the number of vaccines available. This will strengthen community resilience by preventing avertable diseases while also strengthening life beginnings for children who receive necessary vaccinations. The number one goal of the research is to decrease preventable deaths from diseases by increasing the number of children vaccinated. The optimization model will identify alternative transportation routes and modes (e.g., car, bicycle, walk, boat) to local health facilities and their associated performance in terms of number of children receiving vaccines in a timely manner. This helps with the goal of increasing population health globally, because it increases infectious disease immunity.

Crystal Liu (Biochemistry, Biology), Exposure to BPA Induces Behavioral Changes in Mytilus trossulus

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a commonly used endocrine disruptor known to affect neurological and reproductive functions in all exposed organisms. Due to its lipophilic structure, BPA will readily bind onto anything in an aquatic environment. Increased demands in plastics production has caused BPA to leech into the waterways, with the compound persisting longer in marine environments. Thus, tidal organisms, like shellfish, are at a greater risk of BPA contamination because tidal zones are the first places to encounter chemical run offs from land. This negatively impacts shellfish because not only are they economically vital worldwide as a protein source, but they are also ecologically important in filtering and purifying water. Unfortunately, constant filtration makes shellfish, like marine mussels, susceptible to bioaccumulating BPA from their environment. In research, mussels are considered sentinel organisms because they produce fewer byssal threads when exposed to an environmental toxin.

In our study, mussels exposed to high concentrations of BPA produced fewer byssal threads and bioaccumulated high concentrations of BPA in their tissues. Therefore, exposed mussels living in tidal zones will experience higher mortality rates with greater occurrences of dislodgment by waves and predators. Increased consumption of mussels will result in BPA contamination and biomagnification experienced further up the food chain. For humans, there will be less food produced overall as more mussels will fall off of suspension lines used in mussel farming, leading to large economic losses. Additionally, coastal urban populations that consume large amounts of mussels may experience more health complications associated with BPA.

Ernie Tao (Political Science, Biochemistry), What is your Non-Emergency? Socioeconomic Factors Contributing to Misutilization of the South King County 911 System

The American 911 system was designed as an entry point for emergent patients by rapidly delivering patients to emergency rooms. However, increasingly as a result of an unequal society, many population health afflictions are upstream of the scope of traditional health care. Situations with homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse are increasingly relying on the fire departments and emergency rooms to provide short-term relief for long-term issues. These issues are rooted in socioeconomic and environmental factors that health care is unable to address. However, connecting patients to the appropriate health or social service intervention is critical for the individual’s long-term health and well being.

This study is an interdisciplinary study that uses statistical and data science methods to combine population health theories with clinical realities that firefighters encounter in the community. This study illuminates how primary care and lifestyle health needs are unnecessarily diverted to an over-burdened health care system, potentially as a result of poor health access or sufficient targeted social support options. Ultimately, the case of Fire Department misutilization is representative of the overall American health care paradox: high health care spending with lower than expected health outcomes. The identified contributing socioeconomic factors, which contribute to this issue, provide suggestions for policymakers to build a more effective health-delivery vehicle.

Rachael Helen Cumberland (Biology), Interannual Variations in Marine Bird Communities of the San Juan Channel in Relation to Climate Patterns

One of the main pillars of population health is environmental resilience, which encompasses the well-being and adaptability of the organisms around us. For Washington, a state founded on the rich coastal waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean, the health of our community is intertwined with that of our marine ecosystem and the creatures that call the ocean home. In order to protect these marine communities, we must be able to accurately evaluate and monitor their health in tandem with other environmental fluctuations. Thus, in order to understand the life that lurks below the surface, we must first look up to the skies at marine birds.

Seabirds are regarded as one of the primary indicators of environmental health due to their integral interactions with various trophic levels and oceanic habitats. From microscopic plankton to foraging fish, marine bird populations are reflective of the wellbeing of several fundamental pillars of the oceanic food web. Hence, our decade-long research in the San Juan Channel monitoring key marine bird population densities holds significant insight into the conditions of the Pacific Ocean ecosystem. Additionally, since many of the prominent seabird species in the San Juan Channel are migratory, their population health affects the wellbeing of ecosystems far beyond Washington, including Northern Canada, Alaska, and the western coasts of Europe. With warming sea temperatures and acidification, it is critical that we monitor how seabird communities are adjusting to these new climatic conditions in order to gain insight into the well-being of the oceans that we call home.

Jacob Aaron Straus (Biology), The Untold Story: Analyzing the Effects of Chronic Pain in Adolescents and Young Adults

Chronic pain is a condition that can cripple affected individuals both mentally and physically and is one of the most widespread medical conditions with hundreds of millions of affected individuals worldwide. While some groups may be at a higher risk for suffering from chronic pain, individuals across all age groups, races, genders, sexual orientations, income levels and educational backgrounds are affected. Some clinicians opt for pharmacological (e.g., opioid) treatment plans, but drug interventions may only partially alleviate painful symptoms and fail to address underlying psychological factors. In fact, some of the most effective and lasting chronic pain interventions are psychological therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, CBT interventions were first developed in middle-aged adults and have largely yet to expand to other at-risk groups such as adolescents and young adults (AYAs).

The AYA period is a time of transition and individuals in this age group may face many life challenges and pressures. Chronic pain is known to negatively impact AYA development, yet the full effects of this condition are still largely unknown. This research aims to improve population health by investigating this unrepresented group in order to learn more about how they are affected by chronic pain. With our new knowledge we can work to develop better therapies specifically designed for AYAs with the hopes of seeing better clinical success. Our team’s unique interdisciplinary composition of physicians and clinical psychologists allows us thoroughly investigate the crossroads of medicine and psychology all with the common goal of improving lives.

Sarah Larson (Biology), Rhizosphere Changes Help Explain the Reduced Nutritional Quality of Rice under Elevated Carbon Dioxide: Evidence from a Controlled Greenhouse Study

Rice is a basic food of more than two billion people and will continue to be a major crop and staple food in the future. Concurrently with this increase in rice consumption, global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are predicted to rise to 550 ppm in the next sixty years. Therefore, the fact that elevated carbon dioxide has been linked to decreased nutritional quality of rice, especially reductions in iron and zinc is of great concern, as deficiencies in these elements are common in populations consuming diets based on C3 grains and represent a serious and global public health problem – an estimated two billion people suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies, causing a loss of 63 million life years annually. Our project is very basic, mechanistic-understanding of a problem with a large application.

Samantha Haijiao Sun (Bioengineering), A Graph Theoretical Analysis of Pediatric Sports Concussion using Diffusion Tensor Imaging

With over 44 million youths participating in sports annually, more than 1 million of those children experience a sports-related concussion. However, many children remain undiagnosed, and they can experience symptoms that last from months to years, affecting their school work and social relationships. It is still unclear how concussion impacts affect children, specifically with their still-developing brain, and due to this lack of information, the current process is for the players to rest until their symptoms clear without good evidenced-based rules regarding when it is safe to return to play. The aim of this research project is to utilize advanced neuroimaging and analysis tools, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and graph theory, to explore short-term and longitudinal changes in the brain following pediatric sports concussion and to obtain a more reliable and sensitive method to diagnose pediatric concussion.

Findings from this project could help shed light on what are often referred to as invisible injuries, since they are not routinely seen by current radiographic techniques. By better identifying the underlying pathophysiological changes, it is the hope that these concussion exposures will be taken more seriously in sports and that the current social stigma to “tough it out” will eventually be removed. As we learn more about concussion, safety policy and concussion care guidelines continue to evolve, and we hope this research will inform return to play decisions and the design of the next generation of protective equipment to ensure the safety and resilience of our children.

Carolyn Birkenfeld (Community, Environment, & Planning), Establishing and Sustaining Walking School Buses in Seattle Elementary Schools

I believe that developing a culture around walking to school has the power to not only inspire a generation of active transportation, but also to leverage assets among families to strengthen school communities from within. In a city that is growing as fast as Seattle, it is critical that our understanding of human mobility shifts to prioritize sustainable and safe transportation options. Programs such as Walking School Buses provide young students with an opportunity to practice safe pedestrian behavior and develop an appreciation for the ability of their own two feet. Students who walk to school also experience positive health benefits by incorporating physical activity into their daily routines. Walking to school is an economic and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that every student should have access to.

My project seeks to identify how the Seattle Department of Transportation can most effectively support the growth of Walking School Buses in elementary schools across the city. This requires an understanding of the different levels of resources and capacities among schools. A Walking School Bus is not a cookie-cutter program, but rather a collaboration between families and schools that looks very different based on the community. I am looking forward to discovering how schools in varying social and cultural contexts can come together to provide the opportunity of a Walking School Bus to their children and community.

Prince Wang (Communication, Neurobiology), Multiracial Microaggressions in Healthcare

Multiracial individuals are growing at three times the rate of the general population, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet, little is known about the healthcare experiences of this rapidly-growing population of people. Most research into health disparities involves studying individuals from a monoracial perspective, despite previous work documenting that multiracial individuals have a unique racialized experience distinct from other monoracial groups. Therefore, this study is pivotal in establishing the multiracial experience and uncovering the most common types of racial microaggressions that these people face in their healthcare interactions.

Racial microaggressions and assumptions made by healthcare providers have been shown by previous studies to negatively impact patients’ mental and physical health. Another layer of complexity exists due to the unique power dynamic between providers and patients that may not be present in their everyday experiences with microaggressions. Identifying what these racial microaggressions are and how they manifest in patient-provider interactions is essential to improving the communication process between these two parties. Better communication will hopefully encourage patients to be greater participants in conversations surrounding their own health. In the long-term, we hope that this study will ultimately improve the health of this growing population in the U.S.

Natalie Lawrence (Psychology, UW Tacoma), Intersections of Rape, Policy and Culture Within Brazil and the United States

The lack of action in policy regarding the sexual victimization of women creates barriers to many other goals of democracy, such as economic development, welfare reform, public health, pay equality, and the well-being of children. However, Northern feminists have paid little attention to learning about or adapting models from Latin American countries. This research will create a cross-cultural discourse for strategies that would allow the University of Washington Tacoma, the Methodist University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul to share insights and contribute to one another’s progress in sexual assault intervention programming and prevention strategies. Brazil has formed innovative interventions such as specialized Women’s Police Stations and court systems to respond to violent crimes against women. They have established Women’s Rights Councils at the national, state and city levels.

My hypothesis is that Brazilian students will have greater awareness of intervention strategies than University of Washington students. I utilize a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collected from 245 surveys and interviews with students at the Brazilian universities and 245 surveys and interviews at the University of Washington, Tacoma. I employ Feminist theory to analyze policy making and the globalization of local women’s agendas. Findings indicate a greater lack of knowledge of resources at the University of Washington. Brazil’s experience suggests that implementing Women’s Rights Councils in the United States may create space within the municipalities of our country for women’s participation in elaborating public policies as well as in advising and supervising executive actions.

Mingyou Yang (Environmental Science, UW Bothell), Association between King County Cardiovascular Disease Rate and Accessibility to Environmental Amenities Using GIS

Social disparity has been one of the main driven factors of population health detriment. This research looks to explore the relationship between King County’s population cardiovascular health and their accessibility to environmental amenities. This study not only includes demographic data, as well as geo-data such as environmental amenities distribution. The significance of this study urges the change in current social system and begs the population to make lifestyle changes which improves their health.

Please visit our funding page to learn more about these awards.