women high fiving at book signing table

Yesterday’s Book Signing Party at the APHA Annual Meeting & Expo was unlike regular bookstore signings for Mona Hanna-Attisha.

The pediatrician who helped expose the Flint water crisis was exuberantly chatting with fellow public health professionals as she signed copies of her book "What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City." The book, published in June 2018, has been called "gripping" and "a thriller." It describes how Hanna-Attisha learned about the city’s lead poisoning.

As readers approached Hanna-Attisha at the signing, she greeted them: "Nice to meet you. What’s your story?" She often found a connection, signing a book for a fellow pediatrician, then an epidemiologist. There was always the opportunity to discuss shared public health concerns. "It’s great to be able to talk to folks who know the science and know the story of Flint that the book conveys," she said.

Hanna-Attisha is an APHA member, but this is her first Annual Meeting. "It’s really special. You can feel the energy; it’s palpable," she said. "APHA is full of folks who are committed to making the world a better place."

Aditi Srivastav Bussells wanted to meet Hanna-Attisha to talk about how she used the national attention Flint received to call attention to other issues. "We talked about how she had to reframe this water crisis into something more," Bussells said. “This is a national example of how we’ve had some policy successes and people who ideologically don’t think alike work together."

That’s of particular interest to Bussells, a Doris Duke Fellow and a research and community impact manager for Children’s Trust of South Carolina. She approached Hanna-Attisha by saying, "Hi, my name is Aditi, and I’m doing work in a red state." Later, Bussells explained, "You have to use the windows of public health that arise. My work is very much about framing issues to legislators."

A few feet away, Sarah Hill, from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, was excited to chat with and get her book signed by Marion Nestle, known for battling the food industry. Nestle is a professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. Her latest book, "Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat," was published in October.

"I certainly know Marion Nestle’s work very well," Hill said. "She’s a giant in the field of noncommunicable disease prevention. What I think is really exciting about her work is a lot of public health focuses on trying to get the individual to change, which is [worthwhile], but what Marion’s work does is shift our focus from beyond the individual to the environment." And in nutrition, that includes examining — and taking on — the influence of multinational corporations.

Longtime APHA member Nestle said the book signing gave her "an opportunity to reach people in areas of public health I don’t usually have an opportunity to reach."

At top, author Mona Hanna-Attisha, right, high-fives Aditi Srivastav Bussells for her public health efforts. Photo by Melanie Padgett Powers