Public health is grounded in data and science. From that bedrock, studies and reports emerge that might one day help change policy and create programs that improve lives.

During Sunday’s poster sessions at APHA’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo, scores of public health researchers were on hand to display and explain their evidence-based work.

uniformed woman talking about public health posterKristin Yeoman, with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, talked about research into worker heat strain in an Idaho mine. She and her team found that the body temperature of miners can exceed safe limits of heat exposure.

But that’s not what makes the research unique — many workplace studies have found unsafe heat exposure in occupational settings.

Yeoman’s study differs in finding that the Idaho miners’ body temperature rises and falls like a roller-coaster throughout their shifts. Yeoman believes it’s because they’re periodically taking breaks or doing less physically strenuous work. Yeoman’s question: Does a variable spike in body temperature harm cognitive function?

The pilot study is helping researchers “understand patterns of heat exposure in mining so we can figure out how to mitigate” cognitive health risk, Yeoman said. That work could then be applied to workers in other mines.

A fellow poster also focused on worker health safety. This one involved dangers for workers who inhale food flavorings, including a chemical used in butter-flavored popcorn.

Besides flavored popcorn, harmful chemicals are also used in pet foods, baked goods and other products, according to the poster presentation. Inhaling flavoring chemicals can cause permanent lung disease in workers.

Presenting the information were Peter Dooley, an occupational health and safety consultant, and W. Taylor Lacy, a South Carolina lawyer who is representing a group of workers who claim to have suffered ill health due to exposure to flavoring chemicals.

Lacy said he hopes the research will lead to educating employers and employees about the dangers of exposure, which might lead to developing safety equipment and engineering controls to minimize health risks.

In another poster presentation, a trio of California students presented their research on teaching home-cooking to reduce obesity, primarily in low-income Hispanic communities.

The study involved adolescents in two underrepresented California communities. The goal was to educate about nutrition and help them create their own healthful dishes, with the ultimate hope of reducing weight gain and creating a model for others in the community to follow.

Victoria Ayala, who’s pursuing an MPH at the University of California-Los Angeles and is a co-author of the study, said she was interested in improving nutrition because she grew up in one of the study communities, which she described as a “food desert.”

Results so far show that teens are empowered by learning to cook using healthful ingredients, and the effort has yielded some impact on reducing participants’ initial habit of high-calorie, low-nutrition eating.

“We want to see the young take these cooking skills into adulthood,” Ayala said. “Then teach their families about it.”

Photo by Mark Barna