In a new publication, NIEHS grantees describe a case study in multidirectional communication of environmental health science in community settings. The team emphasizes the benefits of partnerships with community groups and other stakeholders to enhance development of educational tools for Detroit area residents.
"Stakeholder partnerships are very powerful collaborations in a research effort. For example, when the community contributes to the direction of a project, it helps to ensure their overarching needs are met at the ground level. Research that embraces this approach can often be translated to action much more quickly than if it is done in isolation" said Stakeholder Advisory Board (SAB) Co-lead Donele Wilkins.
The fact sheets, video, and maps that were developed are relevant for diverse audiences, including the public, educators, health practitioners, and policy makers. These tools aimed to improve public health and reduce health inequalities in the community. Together, the communication materials:
- Describe the pattern of local air pollution sources in the community;
- Convey how air pollution, through the mechanism of oxidative stress, is associated with chronic health problems; and
- Show the distribution of accessible antioxidant rich foods in the community, which are important for reducing oxidative stress in the body.
The paper describes the iterative process between researchers and Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) members from the NIEHS-funded Michigan Center on Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease (M-LEEaD) and an SAB to develop educational tools that were relevant to the community's environmental health concerns.
"One of the strengths of multidirectional communication in research is that it assumes all parties add value in discovering solutions to health disparities," noted Wilkins. The SAB members helped identify air pollution and associated chronic health conditions, such as asthma, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, as a priority concern for Detroit residents. M-LEEaD scientists explored research questions relevant to these topics and reviewed the educational materials for scientific accuracy. SAB and COEC members ensured that the images, language, and dissemination strategy appropriately reached the desired audience.
The team notes that while the materials may be most relevant to Detroit, they emphasize how this process may be useful to similar projects using community-engaged research approaches. "This work helps to bring clarity to overarching health issues commonly experienced in marginalized communities, makes connections between environmental exposures and health outcomes, and will ideally reduce the burdens that may result from those exposures," said Wilkins.