woman standing in front of poster

Yesterday marked the opening of the Public Health Expo in Atlanta and with it, a sneak peek at a range of budding scientific discoveries.

The Expo hosts hundreds of scientific poster presentations in the coming days, showcasing early stages of research spanning all corners of public health. This year, many posters focused on health inequality and the social determinants of health, which are especially fitting in light of APHA’s 2018 Annual Meeting theme of “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now.” With their posters up for public view, researchers hope they can contribute to the ongoing effort to narrow and eventually eliminate health disparities and inequities.

Poster presenter Marcus Dumas from the University of Georgia offered research on body dissatisfaction among first-generation Mexican-American youth, finding that American ideals of beauty are widespread.

“In the United States there’s this thing of ‘thin is in’ as a young lady and ‘I have to be muscular and built’ as a male,” Dumas said, noting that U.S. beauty standards are influencing Mexican-American youths’ ideas about body image, often making them feel negatively about their own appearances.

Dumas hopes to conduct a focus group to determine exactly how young Mexican-Americans are receiving these (often unhealthy) messages on body image. He then wants to use the findings to educate adolescents at community health centers and schools “to help them feel more comfortable in their skin.”

Anna Hayward’s poster presentation is focused on the perceived barriers that low-income fathers face in accessing mental health care.

“Fathers in general are a really underserved population, and we don’t have enough research to understand what motivates that,” Hayward said. “We know that they have issues with mental health, we know that they want to be involved with their children and be in healthy relationships, but we don’t necessarily always offer services that promote that.”

Part of the problem lies in notions of masculine norms regarding mental health care. Hayward, from Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare, found that men self-reported anxiety and depression at high rates, but that they also believe they should solve their own problems. Many men may also be embarrassed or ashamed to seek out mental health services. Normalizing mental health care in conversations can help quash some of the stereotypes and misconceptions keeping low-income fathers from getting the help they need, Hayward said.

Researcher Trimella Jefferson from Jackson State University presented a poster on the associations between obesity and sleep, finding that quality sleep is often out of reach for many. In fact, getting good sleep is a matter of health inequality, she said. Jackson participated in the university’s Jackson Heart Study, which looks at the prevalence of cardiovascular disease among black adults in the Jackson, Mississippi, metropolitan area. Research shows that poor sleep is correlated with a variety of health problems, such as an increased risk for heart disease, obesity and stroke.

“Since sleep is such an important indicator of health, I feel like more research should be targeted toward sleep and its effect on diseases such as obesity,” Jefferson said. “I just hope my research goes to actually impact(ing) the obesity epidemic in some way.”

Check out all of this year’s poster sessions today and Tuesday at the Public Health Expo in Exhibit Hall B2/B3.

Photo by Michele Late, courtesy The Nation’s Health