Director and Founding Dean, Program in Public Health
Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences

Public Health Literacy: Overcoming the Challenge Our Future Depends On

Much has changed since the World Health Organization formally declared the coronavirus outbreak an epidemic exactly two years ago tomorrow. We’ve developed and distributed life-saving vaccines to children and adults across the country, driven cases down low enough to ease up restrictions, and brought greater awareness of the importance of public health in all facets of life.
Public health in practice is a constant test of resilience. Our work in addressing colliding crises that affect human health – from pandemics and global conflict to climate change and natural disasters – requires ongoing vigilance.
We now face a new set of challenges, many of which can be remedied by improving what we call public health literacy. The term refers to a person’s ability to understand public health science and use it to make informed decisions about their health. Our goal as public health practitioners is to improve public health literacy one person and one community, at a time, to pave the way for change at the population-level.
COVID is just one of the myriad issues we face that demand improvements in public health literacy. That’s especially true now as we navigate the virus’ transition to what you’ve probably heard as
endemic and reorient ourselves to a world with lifted restrictions, but not without risk.
We know that the virus will likely be with us for a while, and the lifted mask mandates (a sensible move backed by evidence-based science) puts the responsibility on individuals to make healthy choices. Masks are no longer required for the unvaccinated, but they’re still recommended for everyone in most indoor, public spaces. It’s on us as individuals to evaluate our risks everywhere we go to protect ourselves and others. That’s why understanding public health concepts, like risk, is so important and such a big part of public health literacy.
Also, part of public health literacy is our ability to stay informed about what’s happening in the world and how current events shape human health and safety on a global scale.
For example, we should be paying attention to the COVID
outbreaks in Hong Kong and New Zealand. In any large population with high rates of infectious disease, emerging variants are always a concern. As we’ve learned in the past two years of tackling one variant after another, what happens in one part of the world can have profound effects on another.
Public health literacy also means understanding the impacts of global conflict on human health. In the case of the tragic
humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the impacts are as vast as they are devastating. Mass migration, depleting resources to support basic human needs, and crumbling infrastructure – examples of structural violence, a term coined by the late and great Dr. Paul Farmer – are among the many consequences of war and armed conflict that make populations increasingly susceptible to disease.

The more we can raise awareness about these issues and the critical role that public health literacy plays in safeguarding human health and well-being, the greater our capacity for meaningful, population-level change becomes.
We need to continue to do more to ensure our communities understand the different risks they take, what different policies mean for our day-to-day lives, and how health behaviors and structural challenges influence health outcomes at the local and global levels.

These are conversations for all of us to have, not just within the sphere of our academic world. Our ability to recover from the pandemic, prepare for future public health crises, and achieve health equity for all depends on it. 

Considering Religion in Public Health Research
by Biblia Cha, MPH, UCI Public Health doctoral student
What is the role of religion in public health research? 
Whatever your response, I offer it as an important question to consider for both public health research and practice. Nearly 
84% of the world’s population is religiously affiliated, including nearly 70% of the U.S. population. In spite of trends indicating secularization of the U.S., over 65% of Americans considered religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives as of 2021, and the global landscape is becoming increasingly religious. Empirical studies have also demonstrated the largely positive relationship between religion and health, while faith-based healthcare has been proposed as a unique way of addressing health disparities. 
The implications of religion for public health show up in many forms, including individually-held beliefs, impacts on cultural practices, social support of religious communities, and institutional influences on policies and social norms. 
Religious leaders play key roles in their congregations and communities, the same individuals who can both champion and discourage public health efforts affecting health disparities. As a result, religious beliefs and faith systems can powerfully influence how people view, interpret, and pursue health. 
However, the intersection of religion and public health is not commonly addressed in community- and population-level research and interventions. While public health researchers and practitioners are typically cognizant of racism, structural inequities, access to education, food, and healthcare, and environmental exposures as 
social determinants of health, how many would readily add religion as part of that list? This is ironic, as much of the public health movement in the U.S. historically emerged in the context of religious beliefs and faith-based charity. 
Though scholarship continues to build at the intersection of religion and public health, there are still many gaps in research. Encouragingly, the 
Public Health, Religion, and Spirituality Network seeks to address this gap by bringing together scholars and practitioners who call for the greater inclusion of religion in population-level health research. One way I personally contribute to scholarship in this area is by focusing my research on how Korean American church communities view and navigate mental health services.
In a time when local, national, and global situations force us to wrestle with many threats to health, I hope this question can encourage other public health researchers and practitioners to seriously consider how to incorporate the religious nature of global populations in our work to improve the public’s health.
Women's History Month 2022

In honor of Women's History Month, we're celebrating women in public health who have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of others, one community at a time. We are proud of all of our female researchers, practitioners, and advocates whose contributions to the field of public health continue to bring us closer to a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

We also use this time to recognize the challenges that women in the field face, especially those experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Women have a great capacity to lead through crisis bringing together attributes around strength, compassion, determination and humanity, yet the COVID crisis overwhelmingly excluded women’s leadership at the national and global level, and in doing so, revealed a frail and fragmented infrastructure in many sectors. Policies around education and childcare have placed a disproportionate burden on women who struggle to balance work, home schooling, and caregiving, all while protecting the health and welfare of our families and communities. The absence of women as national leaders during times of crisis highlights the critical role women play as decision-makers.

As we look toward the future, let's continue to celebrate the accomplishments of women in science and acknowledge the ways we can promote gender equity in and out of the workplace.
Drs. Alana LeBrón and Jun Wu recognized in Orange Coast Magazine's Kickass Women of O.C. 2022 Edition

This month, Drs. Alana LeBrón and Jun Wu were named in Orange Coast Magazine's list of Kickass Women of Orange County in recognition for their community-based work promoting environmental justice through the newly established Center for Environmental Health Disparities Research (CEHDR).
Dr. Andrea De Vizcaya-Ruiz invited to speak on Mexican Consulate panel of Successful Women Who Inspire

On March 8, Dr. De Vizcaya-Ruiz discussed her career in toxicology on a panel hosted by the Mexican Center for Culture and Cinematic Arts of the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles in honor of International Women's Day.
Dean Bernadette Boden-Albala to co-lead health equity efforts as part of newly launched UCI Institute for Precision Health

Boden-Albala will help bring IPH into communities to create solutions to narrow the disparities gap in the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. Working alongside Dr. Dan Cooper, Boden-Albala will advance IPH's mission of using data science, genomics, and machine learning/AI to confront the linked challenges of health equity and the high cost of care.
UCI researchers assess earthquake preparedness in Oklahoma

A recent study by corresponding author and PhD alumna Dr. Georgia Halkia and Dr. Lisa Grant Ludwig underscored the need for community earthquake preparedness education and involvement to mitigate the outcomes of seismic hazards like earthquakes. This research was made possible by a dissertation fellowship from the UCI Public Health and the H&H Lee Foundation Fellowship in Public Health, both of which were awarded to Halkia.
UCI study links air pollution, adverse ovarian function in female mice

A type of air pollution known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5, can cause loss of ovarian function in female mice, due to depleted primordial, primary and secondary follicles, according to a study led by Dr. Ulrike Luderer“Results from our study support links between air pollution exposure and adverse effects on ovarian function and other negative health outcomes in women,” she said.
A Measure of Hope: New Questions for Rebuilding Post-Pandemic

"As knowledge emerges on how hope affects morbidity and mortality over time, major questions remain about which segments of the population are likely to be affected and in which cases declines in hope warrant public health intervention," Dr. Brittany Morey writes in commentary recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. "As the nation recovers from a pandemic, our attention should turn to how to build hope into the fabric of society."
Addressing racial/ethnic inequities in vaccine hesitancy and uptake: lessons learned from the California alliance against COVID-19

STOP COVID-19 CA leverages long standing community partnerships to better understand concerns, misinformation, and address racial/ethnic inequities in vaccine hesitancy and uptake. In a study co-authored by Dr. Suellen Hopfer, researchers demonstrated the wide range of strategies, communication methods, languages, and trusted messengers that have been effective in reaching diverse communities across the state.
Orange County, California COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Best Practices Checklist: A Community-Centered Call to Action for Equitable Vaccination Practices

In response to COVID-19 vaccine inequities unfolding locally, the OC Health Equity COVID-19 community-academic partnership generated a tool to guide a more equitable vaccine approach. Scholars from UCI Public Health and community partners recently combined their recommendations into a checklist with specific action steps meant to strengthen vaccine equity.
UCI COVID-19 Chatline

Connect with a COVID-19 chatline operator now using your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Our team of public health professionals readily respond in real-time and conversations are free, secure, and confidential. The chatline is staffed from 9am to 6pm Pacific time on weekdays and weekends, and offline messages will be answered when the chatline opens the next day. We also provide services for Spanish and Vietnamese speakers upon request. Chat with our support team now >>
Dean Bernadette Boden-Albala teaches a two-day course on pandemic preparedness at the OLLI Institute

This month, Dean Boden-Albala facilitated a two-day course on pandemic preparedness entitled, "Are We Ready for the Next One?" to continuing education students at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). The course engaged students in a discussion about our COVID-19 successes and failures, approaches to achieving meaningful structural and behavioral change, and why public health should be at the forefront of all policies.
UCI Public Health establishes first endowed scholarship through $50,000 gift from Phalen family

Long-time UCI faculty member, Dr. Robert F. Phalen, a professor of medicine and public health and co-director of the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory, and his wife, Katherine, have established the first-ever endowed scholarship at UCI Public Health dedicated to supporting student laboratory research aimed at preventing, treating, and understanding human disease.
Opinion: Military burn pit exposures and the 'mystery illness' the VA still ignores

Dr. Shahir Masri, UCI air pollution scientist, pens in an opinion piece published in The Hill, “Despite increased science, diagnostic tools and awareness, a grassroots effort similar to that ignited by John Stewart which ultimately address respiratory illnesses and burn pits will likely be necessary before the VA extends essential health coverage to the war heroes who remain left behind.” 
UCI researchers find fewer low-cost air pollution sensors in disadvantaged communities

"Although there was a substantial increase in sensor distribution during the widespread wildfires in 2020, only a very small number were placed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and other agencies such as the California Air Resources Board. Most were set up by concerned citizens,” said corresponding author Dr. Jun Wu.
Patient care satisfaction and emergency room utilization among young adult colorectal cancer survivors during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

Survivors of colorectal cancer (CRC) are at risk for late effects of therapy and recurrence of cancer. The pandemic disrupted critical follow-up services, leaving CRC survivors with fewer options for care. A study co-authored by Dr. Joel Milam found that survivors who reported a delay in their follow-up cancer care as a result of the pandemic were twice as likely to be “super-utilizers” of the emergency room.
First of its kind research provides critical information for treating Alzheimer's in American Indian and Alaska natives

"We're hoping our research can help Indigenous health systems figure out policies, services and infrastructure to help their older population with ADRD, including how to efficiently allocate resources to treat AI/AN adults with dementia," said study author Dr. Luohua JiangThe authors found the magnitude of resources allocated to hospital inpatient care among AI/ANs with dementia in the study was strikingly high. They also found these patients reported a higher prevalence of other chronic conditions.
Meet Denise Diaz Payán, PhD, MPP, UCI Public Health’s new Assistant Professor of Health, Society, and Behavior

An expert in community-based approaches to health policy research, Dr. Payán brings years of experience working directly with communities to address food insecurity through equitable public policy. Get to know Dr. Payán by checking out our recent Q&A with her below.
Telemedicine leaves behind non-English speakers, study shows

People who speak limited English struggled to access telehealth services in the US during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by Dr. Denise Payán, affecting their ability to connect with medical care. “That was really a concern of ours — who is getting left out?” she said.

UCI study selected as Gerontology Society's February 2022 Research Editor's Choice

Congratulations to Dr. Annie Ro, whose recent publication on chronic disease and health insurange coverage among older undocumented Latinos was selected as the Gerontology Society's Research Editor's Choice for the month of February.
Changes in Coverage and Cost-Related Delays in Care for Latino Individuals After Elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate

In a newly published study co-authored by Dr. Dylan Roby, researchers compared observations from the period when the health insurance mandate penalty was in full effect (2016-2018) and the year the mandate was eliminated (2019). They observed that the Latino population had an increase in the probabilities of being uninsured, having an ED visit, and delaying care due to cost, despite an increase in the probability of having a usual source of care.
Stem Cell Therapies: Fact vs. Fiction featuring Dr. Leigh Garven Turner

Last month, Dr. Leigh Garven Turner presented in a panel session organized by Nebraska Cures and Research Nebraska about promising stem cell research and the pitfalls of unproven stem cell therapies. As a leader in the field of bioethics with an extensive background in researching the ethical implications of stem cell therapies, Dr. Turner frequently shares his knowledge at events and conferences around the world.
New study co-led by UCI harnesses the power of genomics and GIS to detect emerging pathogens and describe their environments in Southeast Asia

The study, co-authored by Dr. Daniel Parker, underscores the importance of expanding genomics-based surveillance programs worldwide to identify pathogens and prevent future epidemics in resource-scarce, outbreak-prone settings.
Antibiotic resistance: The hidden healthcare crisis

“Antibiotics have all but eliminated death from diseases like sepsis, tuberculosis and cholera, but their overuse has resulted in the breeding of superbugs,” said Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan. “The freedom to purchase antibiotics should come with knowledge and responsibility about appropriate use and disposal.” 
Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology

Each year, the Academy recognizes exceptional microbiologists for their scientific excellence, leadership, service, and scholarly achievement. Dr. Ogunseitan is one of 65 fellows to be elected to the Academy this year representing a wide variety of microbiology sectors, including public health, research, education, industry, and government.
Addressing global health one community at a time: Interview with Maia Tarnas

UC Global Health Institute Ambassador and UCI doctoral student Maia Tarnas hopes to provide solutions to climate-related conflict. “Climate change and climate-related disasters are two-fold. The visible effect is that a region’s environment is physically destroyed or altered. The longer-term effect is that it can create conflict within the region’s population," she said.
3/10/22: Omicron Symptoms Doctors Say are "The Worst" (Bernadette Boden-Albala)
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Glutathione Deficiency Decreases Mouse Oocyte Lipid Droplet Stores and Increases Oxidative Stress, Reducing Oocyte Competence

In a study co-authored by Dr. Ulrike Luderer, researchers showed that mice partially deficient in the antioxidant glutathione have decreased lipid content, decreased mitochondrial function, and increased oxidative stress in their eggs, indicating poor egg quality and possibly decreased fertility. These findings are relevant to women because polymorphisms in genes important in glutathione synthesis exist in humans and may be associated with decreased fertility.
Adverse events related to unapproved stem cell products and other regenerative interventions: recommendations for more robust regulation of the direct-to-consumer marketplace

A study co-authored by Dr. Leigh Garven Turner explored the adverse events that continue to occur in the direct-to-consumer market for unapproved regenerative interventions, a problem the authors argue the US FDA alone cannot adequately address. Other public health strategies are needed to provide better patient protection.
Toxic footprint and materials profile of electronic components in printed circuit boards

Waste printed circuit boards contain valuable material resources and hazardous substances, thereby posing a challenge for sustainable resource recovery and environmental protection initiatives. A study co-authored by Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan found that copper and iron are the most abundant constituents in ECs, as well as new toxic threats from arsenic and selenium leached in excess of regulatory standards.
Eyes Save Lives Water Safety Program for Parents and Caregivers: Program Design and Pilot Evaluation from Southern California

Despite expert consensus and evidence-based preventative strategies against drowning, limited formal study exists on translating recommendations into practical and effective interventions. A recent paper co-authored by Dr. Scott Bartell describes the design of an education-based drowning prevention intervention and its effect on self-reported water-safe behaviors, attitudes, self-efficacy, and knowledge.
Burden of malaria, impact of interventions and climate variability in Western Ethiopia: an area with large irrigation based farming

A study co-authored by Dr. Daniel Parker and Dr. Guiyun Yan showed that overall there was high burden of malaria in the Abobo district of the Gambella region in Western Ethiopia, despite the reduction in recent years. Malaria incidence peaked in 2012 and 2013 following the development of rice production and irrigation project by an agricultural company.
Community-Engaged Use of Low-Cost Sensors to Assess the Spatial Distribution of PM2.5 Concentrations across Disadvantaged Communities: Results from a Pilot Study in Santa Ana, CA

Results from a recent study by corresponding author Dr. Shahir Masri and co-author Dr. Jun Wu underscore the existence of environmental health inequities that persist in urban areas today, which can help to inform policy decisions related to health equity, future urban planning, and community access to resources.
Mental Health in the Era of COVID-19
Tuesday, March 22, 2022 // 5:00 p.m. - 6:15 p.m. // Virtual

Has the COVID-19 pandemic created a mental health crisis? What are UCI’s clinicians and researchers doing to stay at the forefront of intervention and discovery? What can we do to cope and remain hopeful? Learn the latest information from our expert panelists including UCI Public Health's Dr. Tim Bruckner. This event is brought to you by UCI Research Associates. RSVP >>
UC Presidential Chair Distinguished Interprofessional Colloquium Series:
The State of the World's Antibiotics in 2022
Monday, April 4, 2022 // 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. // Virtual

Guest Speaker: Ramanan Laximinarayan, Founder and Director ,Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP)

Antibiotics are losing effectiveness worldwide as a consequence of selection pressure imposed by the massive use of antibiotics and rapid spread of resistant pathogens.  The hidden epidemic of antibiotic resistance kills more people than HIV/AIDS or malaria but has received far less attention than other diseases.  This talk covers the current state of the world’s antibiotics, drivers of resistance, and feasible interventions to combat antibiotic resistance
. RSVP >>
UC Global Health Day 2022
Saturday, May 7, 2022 // 8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. // Hybrid
In-Person Option: UC Santa Cruz, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA 95064

Interdisciplinary by nature and collaborative in spirit, global health efforts encompass a range of academic topics – from psychology to engineering to sustainability and economics, scholars are committed to improving the health of humans, animals and ecosystems around the globe. This event builds on the work of practitioners from UC and beyond by bringing together partners, leaders, and young career professionals for a day of sharing and discussion. More info >>
Back to the Future: Looking towards sustainable, equitable, and healthy transportation
Thursday, June 16 - Friday, June 17, 2022 // Times TBD
Cypress Room and The Commons at UCI Research Park
5301 California Ave, Irvine, CA 92617

Please join the UCI Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) for its 2nd annual symposium on occupational and environmental health threats. COEH will offer ABIH, BCSP, BRN, CME, and REHS credits for those who attend and are eligible. Registration info coming soon.
All events are listed in Pacific Time (PT).
Spit Camp is Back!
The Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research (IISBR) resumed its salivary bioscience training course (a.k.a. Spit Camp) after a two-year hiatus due to pandemic restrictions.
This two-day workshop, held February 3-4 at the IISBR lab, teaches both basic and advanced strategies for incorporating saliva into basic and applied research. Seven participants, including graduate students, research technicians and faculty from UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara attended the workshop. Spit Camp was led by IISBR faculty, Drs. Jenna Riis and UCI Public Health's Beth Thomas and IISBR Lab Manager, Hillary Piccerillo. Spit Camps are typically offered 2-3 times per year; please see the IISBR website for future workshops and updates. 
UCI Public Health Mental Health Pop-Ups

This month, UCI Public Health students in the Health and Justice Advocates (HJA) group organized pop-up booths in Aldrich Park to educate their fellow anteaters about public health, mental health, and well-being.

Adapting to a new life on the other side of the country while pursuing a PhD in the midst of a pandemic is no simple feat. In this episode of Making Public Health Personal, UCI Public Health MPH alumna Ivonne Quiroz shares the story of her journey as a nontraditional student pursuing a public health education. In this podcast episode, Ivonne discusses her passion for food justice, race, culture, and health. She also opens up about how she personally navigates challenges with ADHD and hopes that her story can illuminate for other neurodivergent students and students with disabilities that they too can navigate their own path to success.
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