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Your Environment. Your Health.

PEPH E-News December 2016

Volume 7, Issue 12: December 2016

PEPH E-News Header

Using Social Media and Big Data to Understand How Neighborhood Impacts Health

Quynh Nguyen, Ph.D., is using social media data to build a national neighborhood database, HashtagHealth, that will provide public health researchers with a novel approach for gaining insight into the health and well-being of people across the U.S. HashtagHealth is a repository for data collected from Twitter posts on the neighborhood social environment, such as modeling of food behaviors, which can influence the risk of obesity and other health outcomes. By characterizing nearly 80 million tweets, Nguyen and the HashtagHealth team found that neighborhoods with social and economic disadvantage, high urbanicity, and more fast food restaurants may exhibit lower happiness and fewer healthy behaviors.

"The lack of neighborhood data has limited research on neighborhood effects in the past, but social media now provides a large and cost effective data source to begin to understand neighborhood effects on health," explained Nguyen, an assistant professor in the Health Promotion and Education Program at the University of Utah. "In particular, social media can help us understand previously hidden micro-level interactions such as prevalent sentiment, like happiness, and the culture around food and exercise."

To build HashtagHealth, Nguyen is working with a multidisciplinary team that includes biomedical researchers, computer scientists, geographers, and statisticians. The team used algorithms to create indicators of happiness, healthiness of food mentions, and the frequency and type of physical activity mentions on Twitter and other social media platforms. This social media data can be merged with publicly available census and health data, allowing researchers to explore links between neighborhood indicators and health.

Initial results seem promising. Nguyen and the HashtagHealth team looked at millions of geolocated tweets about food, physical activity, and happiness. They found that tweets from urban areas mentioned fast food more frequently and physical activity less frequently. Tweets from poorer neighborhoods were less happy and also less likely to mention healthy foods. On the other hand, areas with more tweets about healthy food, physical activity, and happiness had fewer deaths and lower rates of chronic disease, such as obesity and diabetes.

"Analyzing views and activities described via social media can help researchers and practitioners understand community perceptions about various topics and the norms and attitudes around health behaviors," explained Nguyen, "These new real-time data sources may, with some adjusting, enable public health officials to examine movement of norms, sentiment, and behaviors that may portend emerging issues or outbreaks – thus providing a way to intervene to prevent adverse health events and also to measure the impact of policies and health interventions."

HashtagHealth is funded by NIEHS through a Mentored Career Development Award in Biomedical Big Data Science, recently awarded to Nguyen, and is part of NIH's Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative.

You can read more about the HashtagHealth team's research in a recent article on

Announcing EHP's Children's Health Webpage

Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) is pleased to launch its new Children's Health Webpage. This webpage will feature timely children's health research and news articles as they are published in EHP as well as links to related material. The webpage includes its own "Search Children's Health" function so visitors can search the journal's full library of children's health content by topic, author, or publication year. The webpage also includes links to government resources and reports of interest, information about children's health organizations, announcements, and links to webinars, meetings, and other events related to children's health.

Silent Spring Institute to Launch New Crowdsourced Biomonitoring Study in December

This December, Silent Spring Institute will launch the first crowdsourced study on people's exposure to toxic chemicals found in everyday consumer products. The goal of the study is to better understand levels of exposure to these harmful chemicals in the U.S. population. People who sign up for the study through Indiegogo will each receive a Detox Me™ Action Kit. The kit includes an easy and non-invasive urine test that detects the presence of ten common household toxics in the body, including BPA, parabens, and triclosan, among others. Participants will then receive a personalized digital report that compares their results with the aggregate data collected from all Detox Me participants and provides concrete actions for reducing their exposures. Taking part in the study will empower people to live a healthier life and help generate new scientific knowledge about everyday chemical exposures needed to inform policies that protect people from harmful chemicals in consumer products. Sign up today to get notified when the study launches!

You can start using Silent Spring Institute's free Detox Me Mobile App today to learn about chemicals in products, explore ways to avoid them, track your progress, and celebrate milestones!

Job Opportunity: Community Garden Study Coordinator at University of Colorado Boulder

The Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado Boulder invites applications for a full-time Professional Research Assistant - Study Coordinator for "A Randomized Controlled Trial of Community Gardening," a new 4-year study funded by the American Cancer Society (2017-2020). This randomized controlled trial of gardening in a multi-ethnic population will be conducted in Denver, Colorado, assessing the impact of gardening on physical activity, health, and nutrition. Responsibilities include coordinating all facets of the research study, collaborating with grant partners at several university and non-profit organizations, and preparing annual progress reports, scientific manuscripts, and non-scientific materials for community stakeholders. A master's degrees or the equivalent of 3 years of professional experience managing projects or conducting community-level field work is required. See the Job Posting (Position Number 07373) for more information and to apply. Questions should be directed to Jill Litt ( Application review began November 15 and will continue until the position is filled.

Job Opportunity: Brown SRP Environmental Health State Agencies Liaison Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Brown Superfund Research Program (SRP) seeks applicants for an Environmental Health State Agencies Liaison (SAL) postdoctoral fellow. The fellow will act as a liaison between parties interested in promoting public health by fostering a better understanding of environmental contamination and how to respond to it. The position is designed to ensure that Rhode Island communities and government agencies are informed by and engaged with basic research on environmental pollution and health impacts. The initial appointment is for one year, ideally beginning in July 2017, and is renewable for up to three years. For full consideration, please apply by January 8, 2017. See the job posting for more information and to apply. Please contact Scott Frickel ( or Christina Ergas ( with any questions.

Job Opportunity: Associate/Full Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Northeastern University

The Department of Health Sciences at Northeastern University invites applications for an Associate/Full Professor with expertise in applying advanced quantitative research methods to any of the following areas: urban health, population health, global health, environmental health, health economics, or other health fields. The principal responsibilities of this position are to maintain an active, funded research program in health sciences, mentor students at all levels, teach in the department's undergraduate and/or graduate programs, and perform service for the department and university at an appropriate level for senior faculty. Engaging in intra-university research collaborations is strongly encouraged. The appointment will begin in fall 2017. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series

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In this podcast, we hear from Sara Wylie, Ph.D., about real-world science being done by everyday people with low-cost research tools. The podcast highlights the benefits of citizen science and some key considerations to ensure it is done properly.

You can find more podcasts on the Environmental Health Chat Webpage or subscribe to the series on iTunes. We want your feedback! Send comments and ideas for future podcasts to

PEPH Grantee Highlights: David Bellinger, Ph.D., and Henry Spliethoff

David Bellinger, Ph.D., a well-known researcher in the area of lead exposure and children's neurodevelopment, is shifting his focus toward communicating why lead exposure is important at a societal level. According to Bellinger, a Professor at Boston Children's Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, when capturing the overall societal burden of lead exposure, we have to think about all of the downstream effects on a child who is cognitively impaired, such as poor school performance. To reduce these effects, Bellinger believes that our focus first should be on preventing lead exposure; however, he explains that if exposure has occurred, a well-timed appropriate intervention could change a child's life trajectory. Read the Grantee Highlight to learn more.

Henry Spliethoff works with community gardeners to help them understand and reduce their exposure from contaminants in urban soils, while still getting the benefits of growing and eating locally grown food. Funded by the NIEHS Research to Action program, Spliethoff, a research scientist for the New York State Department of Health, teamed up with researchers from Cornell University and several New York City community partners to measure lead concentrations in urban garden soil samples and develop exposure estimates for gardeners. He also offers gardeners healthy tips to reduce their exposure, such as using raised garden beds with clean soil and brushing soil off shoes and clothes before entering homes. Read the Grantee Highlight to learn more.

PEPH in the November NIEHS Environmental Factor

Children's environmental health gains visibility. The first Children's Environmental Health Day and a website launch raised awareness and increased public outreach for this important issue.

NIH recognizes 12 champions of environmental health research. The Champion of Environmental Health Research Awards recognized 12 individuals for their significant contributions to the field.

Fry leads community talk on metals exposure and health. NIEHS grantee Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., presented the first Tarheel Tox Talk, a new public outreach program at the University of North Carolina.

Ebola and infectious disease biosafety training launched. Worker-related risks of emerging infectious diseases and best approaches for interventions to decrease risk in a variety of occupational settings were the focus of a September 19 - 21 meeting at NIEHS.

Upcoming PEPH-Related Events

December 1, 2016: Big Data to Knowledge Open Data Science Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland. The Open Data Science Symposium will feature discussions with leaders in big data, open science, and biomedical research while also showcasing the finalists of the Open Science Prize. The symposium is open to the public and will be available through a webcast. Register by November 18.

December 6 - 8, 2016: NIEHS Environmental Health Science FEST (EHS FEST) in Durham, North Carolina. As part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations, NIEHS is organizing the EHS FEST to bring together researchers, community engagement teams, trainees, and young investigators, all supported by NIEHS, for several days of scientific dialog.

December 14 - 15, 2016: 9th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health in Washington, D.C. Co-hosted by NIH and AcademyHealth, this Conference aims to grow the dissemination and implementation research base by bridging the gap between evidence, practice, and policy in health and medicine.

January 24 - 26, 2017: NCSE 2017 Integrating Environment and Health in Washington, D.C. Organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), this conference will bring together researchers, educators, students, policy makers, and entrepreneurs to explore environmental and human health connections.

March 1 - 3, 2017: Migrant Labor and Global Health (MLGH) Conference on the University of California, Davis campus. The MLGH Conference serves as a platform to explore the multidisciplinary aspects of migration and their impact on health.

March 9 - 11, 2017: Save the date for the Association for Community Health Improvement (ACHI) National Conference in Denver, Colorado.

May 17 - 20, 2017: Citizen Science Association (CSA) Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. Please join CSA for CitSci2017 and be part of conversations to create a field of citizen science. There will be more news regarding conference plans and a Call for Proposals in the coming weeks.

Funding Opportunities

Visit the PEPH Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) webpage for more PEPH-related funding opportunities.

Environmental Justice Small Grants. EPA's Environmental Justice Small Grants program provides financial assistance to community-based organizations and local and tribal governments working on projects to address environmental and public health concerns. EPA will award grants that support activities designed to empower and educate affected communities and to identify ways to address environmental and public health concerns at the local level. Several pre-application assistance calls are scheduled for December and January. Deadline: January 31, 2017.

Advancing Basic Behavioral and Social Research on Resilience: An Integrative Science Approach (UG3/UH3). To elucidate mechanisms and processes of resilience within a general framework that emphasizes its dynamics and interactions across both time and scale, multiple contexts, multiple outcomes, and multiple time frames. Deadline: December 1, 2016.

Spatial Uncertainty: Data, Modeling, and Communication (R01). Supports innovative research that identifies sources of spatial uncertainty in public health data, incorporates the inaccuracy or instability into statistical methods, and develops novel tools to visualize the nature and consequences of spatial uncertainty. Deadline: February 5, 2017.

Environmental Exposures and Health: Exploration of Non-traditional Settings (R01, R21). Encourages interdisciplinary research aimed at promoting health, preventing and limiting symptoms and disease, and reducing health disparities across the lifespan for those living or spending time in non-traditional settings (i.e., playgrounds and nursing homes). Deadlines: February 5, 2017 (R01); February 16, 2017 (R21).

Research to Action: Assessing and Addressing Community Exposures to Environmental Contaminants (R01). Encourages applications using community-engaged research methods to investigate the potential health risks of environmental exposures of concern to the community and to implement an environmental public health action plan based on research findings. Deadline: Standard receipt dates apply (February 5, June 5, October 5).

Education and Health: New Frontiers (R01, R03, R21). Supports research that will further elucidate the pathways involved in the relationship between education and health outcomes and in doing so to carefully identify the specific aspects and qualities of education that are responsible for this relationship and what the mediating factors are that affect the nature of the causal relationship. Deadlines: February 5, 2017 (R01); February 16, 2017 (R03, R21).

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