The stories below were the most read stories of the year on the School of Public Health website. Though not all written in 2018, the stories conveyed eye-opening discoveries and had timely appeal for readers who wanted more information about topics such as cancer, racism, food equity, and the environment.
1. Plastic Particles Common in Tap Water, Beer, and Salt
SPH alumna Mary Kosuth (MS ’17) and co-author Associate Professor Betsy Wattenberg found that 81 percent of internationally sourced tap water samples — and all tested brands of salt and of beer made from Great Lakes water — contained microplastics. “[We] basically confirmed that this stuff is everywhere,” says Kosuth.
2. Cycling Saves Lives and Money in Minnesota
Professor Mark Pereira and PhD student Aaron Berger found that Minnesota’s significant investments in cycling paths and other bike riding infrastructure are paying off. Cycling helps prevent obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol and that reduction in risk prevents 12-61 deaths per year and annually saves the state $100-500 million.
3. Linking Structural Racism and Health
Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman explores how structural racism influences health at the Roots Community Birth Center in North Minneapolis, and discovers how to disrupt that pathway. She also takes on the “hidden curriculum” in medical schools — unofficial and often unintended lessons that students learn that perpetuate racial myths.
4. Finding Good Food Close to Home
Professor Melissa Laska and MPH student Kirsten Arm investigated the effectiveness of Minneapolis’s Staple Foods Ordinance, the first piece of legislation in the country to require licensed grocery stores — including corner stores, dollar stores, gas stations, and pharmacies — to display and sell high quality fresh produce and other whole foods.
5. Chemo Can Lead to Kidney Damage in Breast Cancer Patients
Professor Beth Virnig and SPH alumna Shuling Li (PhD ’13) found that chemotherapy for elderly breast cancer patients is associated with a nearly three-times increased risk of acute kidney injury within six months of beginning treatment compared to patients not treated with chemotherapy.
6. Vaccines Help Prevent the Spread of Disease
In this SPH podcast, Professor Michael Osterholm stresses the benefits of protecting against vaccine-preventable diseases and addresses current challenges to vaccinations. He also emphasizes that developing and delivering a universal flu vaccine, “would rival anything we’ve ever done in public health, including the eradication of smallpox.”
7. Developing an Anti-Racism Medical School Curriculum
To fight racism’s potential influence on health, people must recognize, name, understand, and talk about it. Assistant Professor Rachel Hardeman used a methodology called Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) with a group of health professionals to explore new ways to advance conversations about racism in health care.
8. Cancer Causing Chemical Formed in E-Cigarette Users
Associate Professor Irina Stepanov found that while e-cigarettes contain virtually no N-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) — a chemical that can cause oral cavity and esophageal cancer — the chemical can form in an e-cigarette user’s body when they take in nicotine through the device. Their NNN levels were generally lower than smokers, but some were comparable.
9. Exposure to Chemical in Many Plastics Linked to Language Delay in Toddlers
Associate Professor Ruby Nguyen found that prenatal phthalate (compounds that make plastics soft and flexible) exposure is linked to language development delays in young children. “This is more evidence that exposure to phthalates — even as early as pregnancy — can have an affect on the developing brains of children,” says Nguyen.
10. Putting Treatments to the Test
The Coordinating Centers for Biometric Research (CCBR) has attracted multi-million dollar grants for more than 40 years to test vaccines, drugs, and medical treatments. Its international reputation and success stem from how well it handles data and the great emphasis it puts on establishing good relationships with study participants.