Vital Record » Public Health Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:42:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Study finds Texas Cancer Plan serves as a good model for other states Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:29:00 +0000 A study led by the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health has the potential to significantly improve the ways that state cancer control programs are developed and implemented around the country]]>
People forming cancer ribbon

Community capacity building and sustainability are key to successful state cancer control plans. Community members demonstrate their commitment to cancer prevention by forming the cancer ribbon.

A study lead by the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health has the potential to significantly improve the ways that state cancer control programs are developed and implemented around the country.

Researchers affiliated with the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network (CPCRN) analyzed 40 different state cancer prevention plans funded by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control in order to determine how they incorporated community capacity building and sustainability into their plan. Research findings published this month in Frontiers in Public Health demonstrate the importance of including detailed methods for obtaining and implementing funding as well as proposed strategies for increased community involvement in state plans for cancer prevention programs.

In “Promoting Public Health through State Cancer Control Plans: A Review of Capacity and Sustainability,” researchers indicated community capacity was addressed in just over half the plans with few specifics on roles and responsibilities, timelines for action, and measurements for evaluation. Almost all 40 state cancer prevention plans addressed sustainability on a least a cursory level, but with few details on how these strategies would be implemented.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

In contrast, the Texas Cancer Plan was selected as a case study of how to incorporate capacity and sustainability, which included highly detailed plans for increasing community participation, capital, and resources as well as plans for gaining and implementing continued funding.

“It is essential that state cancer control plans specifically identify how states will incorporate community involvement, allocate organizational resources, and leverage existing community capital to establish credibility and legitimacy,“ said lead author Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., of the Texas A&M School of Public Health. “Plans must address both community capacity building and sustainability in a concrete and realistic manner to assure the success of the important work being undertaken by cancer control and prevention agencies.”

“The initial Texas Cancer Plan was published in 1986, making Texas one of the first states to have a state cancer plan. Texas’ plans are designed to engage stakeholders and their communities from plan initiation through implementation of goals and objectives for cancer control,” said Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, Dr.P.H., co-author and Cancer Alliance of Texas member.

With the release of these findings, study investigators are hopeful that there will be greater attention to these key concepts as they are critical to plans intended to better serve communities. When local cancer prevention programs work together to combine their collective community resources, they increase participation, reinforce a strong chain of leadership, and increase gained capital.

Additional researchers include Cathy Melvin, Ph.D., who was affiliated with the University of North Carolina CPCRN, and Brigid Sanner, who reviewed all of the plans.

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U.S. News ranks Texas A&M School of Public Health among the top 25 Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:15:29 +0000 U.S. News & World Report has recognized the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health as one of the top 25 graduate schools of public health. The 2016 Best Graduate Schools rankings were released recently and also recognized the school’s Master of Health Administration program, ranked 33 among best graduate health care management programs]]>

U.S. News & World Report has recognized the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health as one of the top 25 graduate schools of public health. The 2016 Best Graduate Schools rankings were released recently and also recognized the school’s Master of Health Administration program, ranked 33 among best graduate health care management programs.

“This ranking confirms our place as one of America’s best schools of public health. The high quality of our research and educational programs continues to improve the health of all Texans,” said Jay Maddock, Ph.D., dean of the School of Public Health.

The Texas A&M School of Public Health educates and trains health care professionals at campuses in Bryan-College Station and McAllen – and soon to include Houston – through a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Through novel research initiatives that incorporate population health investigations across diverse global communities, the School of Public Health is advancing disease prevention and health improvement throughout Texas and beyond.

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Being healthy is about more than just food Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:42 +0000 Becoming healthier requires a little more than just putting the right food on your plate. The government has recommended 10 basic lifestyle changes that will help your "diet" become more than just a meal-time decision]]>


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Don’t let the word “diet” overwhelm you Mon, 23 Mar 2015 19:49:24 +0000 Changing up your eating habits can sometimes be overwhelming. New government dietary guidelines show what we are eating too much of—and what we need to eat more of]]>


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Mission BREATHE program combines education and science to target asthma in South Texas Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:49:46 +0000 A new program developed by a researcher in the Texas A&M College of Medicine shows families in South Texas simple things they can do to reduce asthma triggers in the home]]>

As a child growing up in South Texas, medical student Jacob Cobb remembers how difficult it was to control his asthma. Pediatricians and pulmonologists both told him about all of the environmental factors in and around his home that could affect his asthma.

But not all children who grow up in South Texas are fortunate to have such access to health professionals. That’s what prompted Robin Fuchs-Young, Ph.D., a professor of molecular and cellular medicine in the Texas A&M College of Medicine and the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology, to develop a new program called Mission BREATHE, which stands for Better Recognition of Exacerbating Asthma Triggers in the Home and Environment.

Asthma_infographic“There is a high prevalence of asthma in South Texas due to agricultural pollution that blows in from across the border, high usage of agriculture pesticides and herbicides, and a variety of other issues associated with poverty, like open trash burning,” Fuchs-Young says. “We wanted to see if we could develop an effective, short intervention program that would be easy for busy families.”

During the summer of 2013, Fuchs-Young worked with medical students Cody Dornhecker and Johanna Villasenor and public health student Temi Ajayi to develop the curriculum for Mission BREATHE.

To gather information about asthma and other environmental health concerns along the Texas-Mexico border, the team visited several communities, including McAllen, Mercedes and Progresso, the later of which is home to one of the oldest colonias – unregulated settlements that lack basic utilities such as water and sewage and also lack environmental protection. Genny Carrillo Zuniga, M.D., Sc.D., an associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health who has developed other asthma education programs in South Texas, helped organize these meetings.

Once the educational program was developed and the study approved, Cobb was one of three medical and public health students who helped test the program with families in McAllen, in collaboration with the Rio Grande Regional Hospital.

“There is much misinformation out there about what asthma is and what potential triggers can be,” Cobb says. “It was very enlightening and satisfying to be able to have real conversations with people directly affected by this disease. I learned that simple, non-invasive measures such as patient education can truly make a large impact on someone’s understanding of and compliance with a physician’s orders.”

Ebunoluwa Babalola, another medical student who participated in the project, says she also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with patients, as well as the other local health care workers who were involved in the project.

“I was exposed to many aspects of research and really had the opportunity to learn a lot,” Babalola says. “I am very glad I was given the opportunity to do this.”

While low-income people may not be able to go out and purchase expensive air purifiers, Fuchs-Young says there are simple things that can be done to reduce asthma triggers in the home. For example, she recalls that during one information-gathering session in Progresso, she asked about what kinds of cleaners the parents use in the home.

“The mothers were anxious to make me understand that they keep their homes very clean, so they talked about using bleach and Fabuloso and other strong cleaners,” Fuchs-Young says. “What they didn’t realize was that using cleaners that have scents or perfume can actually trigger asthma symptoms.”

Fuchs-Young notes that some traditions in the Hispanic culture can pose challenges for children with asthma. For example, it is common for several generations to live together under one roof and to be extremely hospitable to guests. It can be difficult to ask a senior member of the household not to smoke when that relative is the owner of the house. To help overcome this, Mission BREATHE educators describe strategies to guide discussions with members of the household and even provide opportunities for role-playing.

“The entire educational intervention is very gentle, respectful and conversational,” Fuchs-Young says. “It’s less of a formal lesson and more of a dialogue where we invite parents to ask lots of questions. These are very loving and concerned parents who are devoted to their children. We want to help them reduce asthma triggers and symptoms with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life.”

Driven by that goal, Fuchs-Young plans to expand the program with the help of Nicolaas Deutz, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University. The next phase will involve taking blood samples from children to see if the intervention has worked.

“There are biological markers in the blood that go up when asthma gets worse,” Fuchs-Young explains. “We can use these to monitor their asthma over time.”

Fuchs-Young directs the Community Outreach and Engagement Core of the Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), which is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She and Deutz have received a $50,000 pilot project grant from CTEHR to fund the study of biological markers and they hope to  begin collecting blood samples this summer.

Once they have the results of this study in hand, Fuchs-Young says they can apply for additional funding that will enable them to expand the program to other communities.

For his part, Cobb says he plans to return to South Texas to practice medicine, and what he learned from participating in the Mission BREATHE program will definitely come in handy.

“Asthma is a common disease process in both pediatric and adult populations,” he says. “I believe that regardless of what specialty I choose, I will see asthmatic patients. Therefore, being more knowledgeable about non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical interventions will be especially helpful. More and more often in medicine we are attempting to shift toward prevention rather than treatment of disease. If I can prevent an asthma attack from happening by avoiding environmental triggers, why shouldn’t I?”

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Gates Millennium Scholars pursuing public health degrees to help the communities they call home Wed, 11 Mar 2015 19:25:21 +0000 Three Gates Millennium Scholars are currently pursuing graduate degrees at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health in hopes of returning home and impacting the underserved communities from which they came]]>
Carlos Mendoza

Carlos Mendoza

Working in the fields alongside his migrant farmer parents, Carlos Mendoza dreamed of the opportunity to attend college. His dream became a reality when he was accepted into the Gates Millennium Scholars program. This program provides deserving students who are often the first in their family to attend college the financial opportunity to do so.

Mendoza is one of three Gates Millennium Scholars currently pursuing graduate degrees at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. Each of the three students hopes to return home and impact the underserved communities from which they came.

Mendoza chose to study public health because it is a population-based discipline where he can impact more people rather than just helping one person at a time. He was delighted when he learned of the school’s online master’s degree in epidemiology, which he is completing without leaving his home in Edinburg, Texas

“I did not want to be far from my family, so the online degree option was a perfect fit for me,” Mendoza said. “I am really enjoying the program and the faculty are very helpful.”

His goal is to eventually work in Hidalgo County as an epidemiologist researching methods to reduce diabetes among Latinos.

Blanca Olivia Macareno

Blanca Olivia Macareno

Blanca Olivia Macareno is also a graduate student whose parents are migrant farmers. Both her father and mother emigrated from Mexico seeking a better life for themselves and their family back in Mexico. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in health policy and management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and hopes to eventually either attend medical school or obtain a doctorate.

“I desire to help meet the health care needs of both Latino and rural populations, since both have been an important part of my life,” Macareno said.

In particular, she is interested in health services research policy for rural communities and chronic disease management intervention for Latino populations, as well as health inequities for both populations. Macareno is currently a research assistant at the school working on the Medicaid 1115 waiver program that evaluates the integration of primary care and mental health, and enjoyed conducting focus groups, one in Spanish, to help determine the pros and cons of the program.

Krystal Flores

Krystal Flores

Krystal Flores was raised in La Grulla, Texas, where the rate of teen pregnancies is extremely high.

“When I was in high school, I was astonished that many of my classmates had one or more children before they graduated,” Flores said.

Throughout high school and college, Flores participated in outreach programs to educate young adults on pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention in the colonias of South Texas and also worked with “Pep Talk Kingsville,” a monthly forum associated with the local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition to raise awareness of teen pregnancy.

She completed her master’s degree from the Texas A&M School of Public Health at the McAllen campus and is currently pursuing a doctorate in health promotion and community health sciences at the College Station campus.

“I truly believe education is the key to prevention, and prevention is key to a healthier South Texas,” Flores said. “Once I complete my doctorate, I hope to return to La Grulla to work on reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates.”

The three students are pursing different public health degrees, but all share the same passion – to use the public health skills and knowledge they are learning to give back to the communities they call home.

“Many individuals in the communities that need public health interventions the most do not have the opportunity or financial resources to seek a formal education,” Flores said. “I have been given a tremendous gift and I hope to one day give back to the community I love.”

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Program that screens low-income Texans for colon cancer expands to 17 counties Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:14:39 +0000 The Texas A&M Health Science Center has received a $1.5 million grant that will enable a colorectal screening program for low-income Texans to continue for another three years and expand its outreach to 17 counties]]>

When Janet Helduser and her husband turned 50, she suggested that they both get colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer, since that is the age at which an initial colonoscopy is recommended.

“He was a tough guy and didn’t really want to have a colonoscopy,” Helduser recalls.

Two years later, her husband died from colon cancer.

“By the time he felt the first pain, the cancer was stage IV (the most advanced), and had already spread to his lungs and liver,” Helduser says.

Stories such as her own make Helduser even more passionate about her role managing a colon cancer screening program in central Texas that is run by the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The program is called C-STEP, which stands for Cancer Screening, Training, Education and Prevention.

The C-STEP program was started in 2011 with a three-year, $2.7 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The Texas A&M Health Science Center recently received another $1.5 million grant from CPRIT that will enable the colorectal screening program to continue for another three years and expand its outreach to an additional 10 counties.

David McClellan, M.D., proposed the C-STEP program to make colon cancer screening available to Texans living in rural areas.

David McClellan, M.D., proposed the C-STEP program to make colon cancer screening available to Texans living in rural areas.

The idea to start the C-STEP program came from David McClellan, M.D., an assistant professor of family and community medicine in the Texas A&M College of Medicine. McClellan also has a personal reason for being interested in colon cancer – his mother died of the disease when she was 67.

“If she had had a screening colonoscopy, she might be alive today,” McClellan says.

McClellan believes one way to make screening colonoscopies more widely available is to increase the number of family physicians who are trained to perform them – as he himself did when he worked as a family physician in the small town of Spearman, Texas.

“In some towns, the nearest gastrointestinal (GI) specialist might be 150 miles away,” McClellan says.

For help in developing the C-STEP program, McClellan turned to Jane Bolin, Ph.D., J.D., R.N., who is a professor of health policy and management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Like McClellan, Bolin also lost her mother to colon cancer.

“It was a very painful thing to watch,” she says.

Colorectal cancer currently ranks third in cancer incidence and cancer-related deaths for men and women in the United States. The incidence of colon cancer is higher in rural communities, and African-Americans tend to have higher rates of colon cancer than some other population groups.

While colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years beginning at age 50, only about half the people who should be screened for colorectal cancer actually get a colonoscopy. One reason for this, Bolin says, is that while Medicaid often covers cancer treatment for the uninsured, it doesn’t provide for routine screenings such as colonoscopies, which can cost anywhere from $800 to more than $3,000.

A recent study by one of Bolin’s doctoral students, Chinedum Ojinnaka, M.P.H., suggested that providing free or subsidized colonoscopies to people in rural areas should be explored as a means of reducing the higher incidence of the disease.

The C-STEP program has two main components – it provides funding to help low-income people receive colonoscopies and it trains young physicians in the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s family medicine residency program how to perform colonoscopies.

A portion of the funds from the initial CPRIT grant were used to purchase colonoscopy equipment for the Texas A&M Physicians clinic in Bryan, Texas, which serves a training ground for the family medicine residency program.

In the first three years of the C-STEP program, family medicine residents performed more than 1,200 colonoscopies, of which more than 800 were funded by CPRIT. Through these colonoscopies, polyps were discovered in 275 people and 11 cases of cancer were found.

Polyps are unwanted growths that, over time, develop into cancerous cells. Colonoscopies can help detect polyps early before they develop into cancer, and the family medicine residents have been trained in how to remove them.

The C-STEP program does not cover cancer treatment, but it does help patients try to identify possible sources of help such as Medicare or Medicaid. Of the 11 cases of cancer that have been found, McClellan says all of them were found early enough that the patients have a good chance of surviving. Patients who had polyps removed are being monitored to make sure they do not develop cancer.

The original CPRIT grant covered colorectal cancer screenings for people in the 7-county Brazos Valley region. The program has recently been expanded to cover a 17-county area and a second screening location has been established in Crockett, Texas, under the direction of J. Patrick Walker, M.D., who also works with physicians in the Texas A&M Family Medicine Residency program.

“We are very excited about this opportunity for our residents,” Walker says.

Walker volunteers regularly at the C.O. Murray Community Clinic in Crockett and says he anticipates many referrals from patients who come to this clinic.

Bolin and McClennan have put together a team of about 50 clinical partners such as Walker who keep an eye out for patients who might need colorectal screenings. They also have 200 community partners such as churches and social service agencies who help get the word out about the availability of the free colorectal screenings.

Bolin, Helduser and McClellan say they hope the C-STEP program will serve as a national model for reducing the incidence of colon cancer, as well as incorporating cancer prevention, screening and education into family medicine residency training programs.

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Dean Maddock elected President of the American Academy of Health Behavior Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:03:18 +0000 Jay Maddock, Ph.D., dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, has been elected President of the American Academy of Health Behavior (AAHB)]]>
Jay Maddock, Ph.D.

Jay Maddock, Ph.D.

Jay Maddock, Ph.D., dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, has been elected President of the American Academy of Health Behavior (AAHB).

The organization focuses on both excellence in research and the application of research to practice to improve the public’s health. Previously, he served AAHB as chair of the membership committee and part of the strategic planning committee.

Maddock is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on more than $18 million in extramural funding and is an author of more than 90 scientific articles.

He assumed leadership of the Texas A&M School of Public Health in February 2015, a top 25 ranked public health graduate school by U.S. News and World Report. Previously he served as the director of the University of Hawaii Public Health Program.

Dean Maddock will begin his term as President-Elect at the AAHB annual meeting in March and will become President in 2016.

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School of Public Health researcher awarded funding to evaluate usability of procedure development and implementation software Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:14:16 +0000 S. Camille Peres, Ph.D., has been awarded $142,300 to examine the usability of a software tool that has the potential to improve worker safety and performance]]>
In high-risk industries, lives depend on procedures being written and used correctly.

In high-risk industries, lives depend on procedures being written and used correctly.

It has been said that procedures are written by those who don’t like to write, for those who don’t like to read. However, in high-risk industries, lives depend on procedures being written and used correctly.

One of the tools currently being used in industries as varied as nuclear to space is ATR’s SmartProcedures, software that separates and checks content and formatting of safety procedures. S. Camille Peres, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, was recently awarded funding of $142,300 for two years by ATR to examine the usability of SmartProcedures™. This tool has the potential to not only expand the likeliness of workers accessing important procedural guidelines in the field, but to improve worker safety and performance.

Peres is an expert in the human factors implication of procedure design and applies the principles and techniques of cognitive psychology to the human-machine interface to improve the usability and effectiveness of the interface.

User testing will be conducted to identify any redesign necessary to ensure SmartProcedureseffectively facilitates employees who not only write the safety procedures, but those who actually perform the procedures in the field.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

“It is not easy to write procedures in a manner that is accurate, clear and concise,” Peres said. “ATR wants to make sure that the interface for SmartProceduresTM does not make this process more difficult. Further, they are interested in exploring how other methods of delivering procedures to the operators, such as hand-held devices, may impact the operators’ comprehension and compliance with the steps of the procedure.”

Peres will research varying groups of employees by recording their responses and behaviors as they attempt to perform various tasks using the software.

This is part of an integrated program of research Peres is working on with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center focused on developing a writer’s guide for procedure writers within high-risk industries such as chemical, space, and oil and gas.

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