Population Health

June 3, 2021

Winning papers announced for 2021 Population Health Library Research Awards

Image of Suzzallo Library's reading roomThe Population Health Initiative has awarded Population Health Recognition Awards to four students participating in the 2021 Library Research Award for Undergraduates.

Award winners were chosen based on the quality of their writing, the innovativeness of their research hypothesis and how well they connected their work to the theme of population health.

This award was created in 2017 in partnership with the UW Libraries. It is open to undergraduate applicants from all three campuses. Submitted projects were completed for either UW course credit or for the Undergraduate Research Program.

The four awardees, the titles of their projects and summaries of their projects are described in the following section.

David Blynov (Political Science), "Washington State Food Banks Amid a Global Pandemic"

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of life, most alarmingly that of food security. Research suggests that food security is one of the most important indicators of physical and financial well-being. Many governmental policies, both on the federal and state level, have passed to alleviate some of that building pressure. Grassroot organizations, particularly food pantries, have also stepped up to meet the increased demand for food security.

Blynov’s study examines the success rate of various food pantries across Washington State in addressing local food insecurities. “Success” is measured by the number of households each food bank served. To collect this data, Blynov individually contacted food banks across Washington State to request information on households served between January to August of 2020. Blynov’s research examines whether food pantry success is influenced by community population size, analyzed through a multivariate regression model to determine whether locality population size has a statistically significant relationship with the number of households served, controlling for other variables.

Blynov’s findings reveal that it is expected that lower population size will lead to higher rates of food bank success due to smaller communities having stronger collective identities and local information being more accessible in smaller communities. These findings may also apply to other grassroots non-profit organizations aiming to expand their reach.

Emma Finkel (Pre-Major), "Ability of Seaweed to Mitigate Climate Change"

After examining greenhouse gases and utilizing knowledge from previous studies in marine biology, Finkel looked to investigate the potential of seaweed in mitigating the influx of greenhouse gases to combat climate change.

As a photosynthetic organism, seaweed can process carbon dioxide output into oxygen. Seaweed is advantageous for both its sequestration capabilities that remove excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, as well as its potential to turn into biofuel. As a biofuel, seaweed recycles the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere, making it carbon neutral.

Finkel notes the potential for seaweed to be used as a renewable energy source to replace fossil fuels. In addition, seaweed holds the potential to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and lower livestock methane emissions. Through this thorough examination of the beneficial qualities of seaweed, Finkel calls for the utilization of seaweed to mitigate climate change.

Lauren Holbrook (Bioengineering), "Doctors Without Disability Awareness: The Role of Medical Training in a Profound Healthcare Barrier for People with Disabilities"

People with disabilities (PWD) constitute the largest minority group in the United States. An estimated 1-in-4 adults live with a disability, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the population of PWD grows, medical staff must meet their unique needs to provide them with equitable, accessible, quality care afforded by their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Holbrook’s review highlights barriers to healthcare for PWD, including physician bias, to inform the development of disability-inclusive medical training standards. The vague cultural competency standards set by the United States Liaison Committee on Medical Education lead to inconsistent, inadequate, and in some cases, nonexistent disability awareness training. Consequently, physicians are ill-equipped to recognize personal prejudice or systemic medical field bias that views disability as an individual tragedy to be fixed or cured. Ultimately, healthcare disparities for PWD and evidence of physicians’ and students’ negative attitudes reveal the state of medical education in the United States, demonstrating the crucial role medical training plays in promoting equitable healthcare for PWD.

Maysen Westling (Environmental Studies), "Environmental Activism in Warren County, North Carolina"

The modern environmental justice movement stems from activism in Warren County, North Carolina, following the decision to construct a toxic waste landfill in a majority Black and low-income community. This decision contributed to the historically unjust political decisions and lack of regulation that has targeted vulnerable populations and forced them to suffer detrimental health impacts due to private and federal companies’ actions.

The activism that occurred in the 1980-90s influenced social and political reform by drawing national attention to environmental racism. While the United States has progressed since Warren County, Westling argues there are still injustices and discrimination that must be addressed to protect the health and wellbeing of unprotected and underrepresented communities.

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