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Former trainee leads APHA session on climate change

By Eddy Ball
December 2010

Rose Ramos, Ph.D.
Unlike most trainees at NIEHS, Ramos didn't spend her fellowship at the bench. Rather, she considered the urban landscape her laboratory and saw policy forums as the venues for sharing much of her research. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As part of the 2010 annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), epidemiologist Rose Ramos, Ph.D., a former NIEHS trainee, organized and moderated a session Nov. 9 that combined her interests in environmental public health with her experiences from 2005 to 2008 as the Institute's NIH Health Disparities Fellow.

The session examined the implications of climate change on public health and brought home the message that global health concerns are very clearly domestic health concerns as well.

"It's evident that urban governments are not prepared for what could be a dramatic increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality, especially among currently underserved populations," Ramos explained. "I hope that continued studies can help public health advocates understand the pressing need to prepare for the effects of climate change."

As Ramos said afterwards, the presentations were very well received by an engaged audience that included her former mentor, NIEHS Director Emeritus Ken Olden, Ph.D., and NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D. (see text box).

An urban focus on climate change

Titled "Summer in the city: Addressing health impacts and disparities posed by urban heat events,"( Exit NIEHS Ramos' session explored the greater mortality associated with extreme heat and air pollution episodes in sprawling metropolitan areas, with a focus on larger cities in the U.S. The four presenters examined climate and health data from major urban areas, largely in the U.S., with the goal of discovering useful tools for local public health departments to target increasingly scarce resources for preventing adverse health outcomes due to heat waves.

The presenters explored several aspects of this growing public health issue:

While at NIEHS, Ramos and Olden published the first study to examine disparities in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome among U.S. females of childbearing age. After leaving NIEHS, Ramos worked on a diabetes surveillance project for the City of San Antonio. During this time, a correlation had been observed between the city's heat waves and an increase in diabetes-related complications resulting in hospitalization. Ramos is currently a research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh where she completed graduate school.

NIEHS participates in sessions on climate change

As well as attending the session led by Ramos, NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D. organized two sessions and spoke in a third one at the APHA meeting.

The first was a special plenary session of the APHA that was entitled "Federal Perspectives on Social Justice, Climate Change and Environmental Health."( Exit NIEHS NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. was the first speaker of the session. She was joined by Irene Dankwa-Mullan, M.D., of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and Onyemaechi Nweke, Dr.P.H., of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Justice.

The second was an informational and listening session for the U.S. Global Change Research Program organized and moderated by Balbus, with a focus on the Interagency Group on Climate Change and Human Health and other climate change and human health activities of the federal government. George Luber, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Tanya Maslak of the U.S. Global Change Research Program were the other speakers. About 40 people attended and engaged in a spirited question-and-answer session following the three presentations.

The third was a scientific session on Climate change and public health: Research, communication, and mitigation activities at the international, federal, local, and personal levels ( Exit NIEHS organized by Oregon State Environmental Public Health Administrator Gail Shibley, J.D. Balbus was one of three speakers, giving a talk on federal activities related to climate change and public health, with an emphasis on the new research funding opportunities at NIEHS and NIH and the development of the human health impacts of climate change program at NIEHS. Other speakers included Luber and Gregg Thomas of the Department of Environmental Health, City and County of Denver. 

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