woman discussing poster as second woman looks on

From occupational health to cancer screenings and family food security, APHA poster sessions cover all facets of public health.

Hundreds of people gathered in the Public Health Expo Hall immediately after it opened on Sunday at the APHA Annual Meeting and Expo to speak with poster presenters about their research. For example, researchers at Western Kentucky University wanted to examine the level of noise exposure police officers are exposed to on the job. Poster presenter Emmanuel Iyiegbuniwe explained that noise dosimeters and sound level meters were used to measure both personal and area noise from different distances from targets at a shooting range. Over three days, noise was measured for 17 officers and two instructors.

Permissible exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is 90 decibels. The researchers recommend the target be 85 decibels because it’s more protective, Iyiegbuniwe said. The average personal noise levels during shotgun and rifle qualifications ranged from 74 to 101 decibels among officers and 90 to 101 among instructors.

“Unfortunately, the instructors had higher levels — one instructor averaged 94.8,” said Iyiegbuniwe, who was a professor of environmental health science at WKU during the project and is now director of public health at California State University San Marcos.

Study participants used hearing protections, but Iyiegbuniwe said the results weren’t necessarily surprising. Studies have shown that hearing protectors don’t necessarily protect as much as people expect, he noted.

“Hearing protection has a number of factors as to whether [it] works as designed by the manufacturer,” he said. “It has to be well-fitted. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Using video to engage students

Students in Salem County in southern New Jersey became sexual health peer educators via a pilot program at the Salem County Youth Wellness Collaborative. Salem County is a very rural county with a large population of older adults, poster presenter Victoria Terry said.

“Our teen population there is super small, but the teen pregnancy rate is very high for such a small population,” she said.

Through the effort, the organizers aimed to instruct students on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease transmission and provide them with the knowledge to educate their peers. Three county schools selected nine high school students to attend two full-day, in-person programs and two short online sessions.

After the education, the students filmed a two-minute PSA, which was shown in their schools and shared on the project’s Facebook page.

Before their education sessions, the students scored only a 42 percent on a pre-test about sexual health. Post-test the students scored an average of 90 percent and were 100 percent comfortable with talking to their peers about sex.

Terry said the organizers learned that the full-day education sessions were too long. Next time, they plan to go into the schools once a week for about eight to 10 weeks.

Analyzing prostate cancer screening

In Florida, researchers examined firefighters’ adherence to prostate cancer screening guidelines. They assessed data from an annual cancer survey the University of Miami conducts with the state’s firefighters.

“It has been shown that there’s an increased risk of prostate cancer among firefighters…they have a slightly increased risk of dying from prostate cancer,” said poster presenter Siddharth Iyengar, a University of Miami medical student and MPH student. The reasons for that are unclear. “It might be because of the exposures they have on the job, but we haven’t teased that out.”

The International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends firefighters be screened with the prostate-specific antigen test annually between the ages of 40 and 45. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that for men ages 55–69, the decision to be screened should be an individual one and that men should discuss the benefits and harms with their doctors. Men ages 70 and older should not be screened.

The study also examined the rationale for being tested. A significant portion — 15 percent — of firefighters younger than 40 were being screened, despite no recommendations for such care. Iyengar said researchers wondered if these men were getting the exam not from their regular primary care provider but from companies that visit firehouses to provide routine exams — and may be using one standard list of screenings for men of all ages.

The research “could help us elucidate a little bit more some better guidelines for these firefighters in getting a (prostate-specific antigen) exam and balancing the risks and the harms,” Iyengar said.

Providing summer food security to students

Poster presenter Nicky O’Reilly’s project conducted a geographic comparison in California of school summer meal programs, which help maintain students’ food security. They categorized schools as rural/township, urban/suburban or fringe urban/suburban.

“For urban communities, probably what had the strongest relationship was the rate of participation in school breakfast programs because it probably means they have a high-need population and they are familiar with navigating the administrative tasks of school food programs, versus rural communities, where really the big thing is school size,” O’Reilly said.

In other words, if rural schools aren’t that big, it’s difficult to have a big enough pool to create a summer program.

“A lot of that has to do with administrative capacity,” she said. For example, can they find the space in their communities to hold the program?

Other projects have demonstrated successful alternatives to summer meal programs, such as summer electronic benefits transfers — providing cash benefits to students for food over the summer, O’Reilly said.

Another lesson O’Reilly pointed out: “In areas where there are a lot of students who are vulnerable, we tend to do a good job of coverage, but perhaps we need to be attending particularly to low-income students who are living in higher-income communities. We might be missing those students.”

The Annual Meeting’s poster sessions run 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. on Monday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Tuesday in the far right of the Public Health Expo Hall.

At top, Victoria Terry, left, discusses her public health research at Sunday’s poster sessions. Photo by Melanie Padgett Powers