As part of an ongoing commitment to improve the health of its community, NIEHS co-sponsored Women’s Health Awareness Day 2017. The event took place April 8 at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, North Carolina, with the theme of "Transforming Communities by Enhancing Women’s Health."
According to the driving force behind Women’s Health Awareness Day, Joan Packenham, Ph.D., the health conference is one way that the NIEHS Clinical Research Branch engages the community and builds awareness of the importance of environmental health, helping women take greater responsibility for their health. "We call this Women’s Health Awareness Day because women need to learn how to take care of themselves in addition to what they already do — taking care of the health of everyone else in their families," Packenham said.
Co-sponsors included the Durham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. and the NCCU Public Health Education Department. Since its inception in 2015, this event has steadily grown in attendance, and this year’s gathering welcomed more than 600 participants.
The festivities lasted all day and included health education sessions, health screenings, and information booths staffed by community partners and NIEHS research study personnel. This year included a separate Teen Girls summit, with sessions on safe dating, community gardening, stress reduction, and other topics.
Connecting with the community
Healthy neighborhoods include environmentally healthy neighborhoods, Packenham explained, emphasizing that it takes time to cultivate healthy living. She and her committee know the value of getting out and meeting people face-to-face, as well as educating them so they can improve their quality of life. “Accurate information is powerful in helping individuals to want to change their behavior,” she said.
Packenham co-chaired a session on successfully managing diabetes. Other seminars at the same time focused on reducing risk of heart disease and cancer, reproductive health and the environment, as well as uterine fibroids.
From dementia to substance abuse, Women’s Health Awareness Day had something for everyone. Harold Morcombe, owner of Health and Safety Consultants of N.C., led "Basic First Aid Skills for the Layperson," one of the many breakout sessions that gave conference goers advice they could use.
NIEHS grantees also led sessions. Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., and her graduate students from the University of North Carolina Superfund Research Program led a session on toxic metals exposure in the home.
Beverly Wright, Ph.D., from Dillard University, shared information on environmental justice and sustainable communities in the face of a changing climate. Packenham pointed out that Women’s Health Awareness Day supports the NIEHS strategic plan goal of addressing environmental health disparities with research and support for public health and prevention solutions.
Spreading the word about NIEHS clinical studies
The mission of NIEHS is to understand how the environment may influence public health so that its research can be used to promote healthier lives. To meet this goal, the institute opened its Clinical Research Unit (CRU) in 2009, with the following objectives.
- Translate basic laboratory findings to advances in human health.
- Study interactions between genetics and environmental factors in the development of human diseases.
- Identify populations at increased risk, and develop novel preventative and therapeutic strategies to combat human diseases.
- Protect the rights, welfare, and well-being of human research participants recruited to participate in research conducted or supported by NIEHS.
Three of the many ongoing CRU studies had booths at Women’s Health Awareness Day to engage the community in the exciting work at NIEHS.
- The CaREFREE Study seeks to understand how environmental factors, such as diet and exercise, affect the menstrual cycle.
- The Body Weight and Puberty Study wants to know if body weight affects when a girl starts puberty.
- The Environmental Polymorphisms Registry is a long-term initiative to collect DNA from up to 20,000 North Carolinians to look for risk factors in common health conditions, such as cancer, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease.
"These studies spoke to what the day was really about," said NIEHS Clinical Director Janet Hall, M.D.