Public health

3 public health proposals earn Bloomberg American Health Initiative seed grants

Initiative focuses on environmental challenges, addiction and overdose, adolescent health risks, violence, and obesity and food systems

City skyline silhouetted by blazing orange and yellow summer sun

Credit: winstonwolf89

As summer temperatures soar across the U.S.—to record levels in some cases—many local governments have stepped up with cooling centers and other interventions. But some public health experts point to a critical weak spot: agencies that aren't properly equipped to tackle the wide-ranging effects of climate change.

In addition to heat, extreme weather-related events such as floods, fires, and drought are on the rise, and so are the related health impacts, including injuries and food scarcity. Health agencies are in need of expertise and strategies to deal with these potential crises.

"Public health agencies need more capacity and training to respond to climate change," says Mary Fox, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who notes a "lack of concerted effort" in addressing this need.

Fox and two colleagues—Thomas Burke and Mary Sheehan—hope to help fill the void with a new online course that will share the best practices in the field today. They will do so with the support of a $20,000 grant from the Bloomberg School's recently launched Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

The project addresses one of the core health policy targets of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative: environmental challenges. The initiative, launched last year with $300 million from Hopkins alumnus and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also focuses on addiction and overdose, adolescent health risks, violence, and obesity and food systems.

For Fox's team, the new education strategy grew out of their recent work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support climate change efforts in 18 state and city public health departments. By analyzing these early programs and others like them, the Hopkins researchers pinpointed some promising strategies and policy tools they hope to share more broadly among health officials through their massive online open course. They plan to start offering the monthlong course next spring through the Coursera platform.

In addition to Fox's project, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative awarded seed grants to two other projects:

A model for predicting urbanization's effect on climate change

Grant amount: $15,000

In 1972, an ambitious MIT team built a computer model to track the world's economy and environment, simulating scenarios for the year 2100 that included total global collapse. Today that Limits to Growth study is both revered for its scope and criticized for its many flaws, according to Gary Lin, a doctoral candidate in the Whiting School of Engineering whose team is using those early systems models as a jumping off point for new climate change predictions.

The project team, which includes professors Stan Becker of the Bloomberg School and Tak Igusa of the Whiting School, will examine the interplay between climate change, urbanization, and population health in regions across the United States. The team is developing data-driven system models that account for complexities like access to food, water, education, and health services, along with economic trends.

The models simulate how all of these factors may affect each other via "feedback loops," as opposed to many past efforts in this vein that simply offer "one-way projections," Lin says. Once complete, the findings are intended to inform policy and practice for climate change resiliency.

A training manual for sexual assault prevention

Grant amount: $10,000

With the grant, Andrea Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, aims to develop and widely distribute a new training manual to help advise colleges and universities throughout Maryland on sexual assault prevention programs. The guide will highlight top research and best strategies that Gielen's center recently identified through a comprehensive literature review.

The Hopkins team intends to use its connections with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's sexual assault prevention unit, which has already established partnerships and programming at campuses across the state. Researchers also plan to consult the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems.