Partnering With Mothers to Improve Mother-daughter Communication About Environmental Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Breast cancer risk is linked to societal and environmental circumstances that may be beyond individual control. Such factors include exposure to certain chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) that are used to make plastics. However, links between environmental exposures and the chance of developing cancer may not be generally well known or understood and, for that reason, those links may not be discussed within families.
When reliable health information is understood and discussed within families, it can have beneficial effects on family members. For example, mothers can positively influence their daughters to follow behavioral health advice into adulthood. Carla L. Fisher, Ph.D., head of the Family, Health, and Lifespan Communication Lab at the University of Florida, recognized the importance of using this mother-daughter bond to educate daughters about environmental risks of breast cancer and to promote healthy behaviors. With her colleague, Kevin Wright, Ph.D., of George Mason University, she recently co-led a two-part study that aimed to disseminate and improve risk information that targets mothers with daughters.
“We know mothers and daughters can influence each other to engage in healthier habits like breast cancer screening. But we also know talking about breast cancer risk is challenging for mothers and daughters. It’s even less likely those conversations will include a focus on environmental determinants of cancer,” said Fisher. “We wanted to help mothers and daughters engage in those conversations and, ultimately, adopt risk-reducing lifestyle habits. Social media can be a useful tool in getting those conversations started and in getting important information out. We wanted to explore whether a social media approach influenced mothers’ perceptions and sparked mother-daughter conversations. We also wanted to better understand how to improve those messages to help navigate conversations about lifestyle changes with their daughters.”
Fisher’s group knew intervening during important developmental periods, like adolescence and puberty, is important. For the first phase of the study, they developed a four-step infographic that highlighted steps mothers and daughters can take together to reduce breast cancer risk. The infographic, which drew on information from the NIEHS and NCI Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), was intended for social media dissemination by mothers who blog about topics related to motherhood (mommy bloggers). Fisher’s team found that mommy bloggers were an effective communication channel in promoting these public health messages, and the results were published in a 2019 paper and a 2020 paper.
Feedback From Mothers Gives Insight Into Creating Effective Tools
After the social media intervention, Fisher and Wright’s team embarked on the second phase of the study. They wanted to further refine BCERP’s mother-daughter toolkit to promote communication about risk and health behavior changes. The team conducted interviews with the mothers (including bloggers) who had been introduced to the toolkit and infographic in the first phase.
“BCERP has a great focus on creating and making available educational materials for families. We wanted to capitalize on that strength and find out what practical tools mothers need and want in order to build healthy habits with their daughters,” said Fisher. “The mothers’ feedback will pave the way in creating tools for mothers and daughters to have productive conversations about environmental factors of breast cancer risk – conversations that we hope lead to risk-reducing behavior changes.”
The mothers identified four message design strategies they felt would improve the toolkit’s utility. The first two strategies were action-oriented and focused on getting the conversation started and keeping it going. Suggestions for tools to get the conversation started included:
- Conversation prompts, such as a list of questions and answers.
- Family-centered activities, such as recipes and scavenger hunts.
- Online interactive tools to track behavior, accumulate points, or get rewarded.
Suggestions for keeping the conversation going focused on spreading out the conversation throughout the year(s) and over multiple social media outlets. For example, lifestyle changes could be made through New Year’s resolutions, and spring cleaning could provide an opportunity to clean out unhealthy products.
Mothers also suggested two design components that focused on targeting the messaging to their daughters, keeping life-span factors in mind: using age-appropriate language and visuals and focusing on developmentally appropriate lifestyle behaviors. For instance, messages could center on identifying chemicals in products like nail polish or cosmetics with teenaged daughters. A thorough discussion of the interview findings was published in a recent paper.
“Mothers’ authentic experiences elevate their voices in helping to better target messages in ways that promote adoption of risk-reducing lifestyle behaviors. As these mothers taught us, we need to make sure the messages in these toolkits include tools to facilitate conversations and maintain them over time. At the same time, those messages have to be engaging to daughters. They have to be understandable and relevant across the life span. But an even bigger part, perhaps, is making the messaging relevant to the daughters and their current interests so that they care about these issues and see how it affects their health both today and tomorrow,” said Fisher.
Fisher and Wright hope that the mothers’ input will lead to effective tools. More generally, they hope the community-engaged approach of partnering with mothers to enhance messages will motivate other researchers to create effective partnerships. This type of community-engaged method reflects BCERP’s approach to getting research into the hands of the public.
New Infographics Help Families Stay Safe at Home During the Pandemic
Changes in routines due to COVID-19 may open the path for new health risks. The University of Cincinnati’s Center for Environmental Genetics released new infographics for parents about the health and safety of children within the context of the pandemic. The infographics cover hand sanitizer, air quality, toy disinfection and protecting children from lead at home.
The Center for Environmental Genetics emphasizes research on gene-environment interactions and the translation of research into clinical practice. Investigators are studying the role of gene-environment interactions in endocrine disruption and cancer, immune and allergic diseases, cardiovascular and lipid disorders, and neurological and behavioral disorders.
NIEHS Seminar on Equitable Responses to Climate-related Disasters During the Pandemic
As part of their series on Climate, Environment, and Health, NIEHS held the seminar, “Ensuring Equitable Response to Climate-related Disasters During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” on September 29. It explored how climate change, the pandemic, and racial injustice interact to increase health risks for disadvantaged populations, and what can be done to address those disparities.
The seminar had a presentation from Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, and a panel discussion about responding to different climate-related health emergencies during the pandemic. You can watch the archived Climate, Environment, and Health series.
National Library of Medicine Seeks Input on Future Resource and Program Directions
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is soliciting public input on its future resource and program directions related to health services research. Since the National Information Center for Health Services Research and Health Care Technology was established in the early 1990s, NLM has ensured that its general activities and core collections reflect the current state of health services research. Additionally, NLM has developed specialized health services research products to address some of the challenges in finding and accessing credible and authoritative health services research information.
NLM is seeking input on the critical issues that are driving the delivery of health services and supporting health services research. Participants from all disciplines of the health services research community are invited to respond. You can read the entire Request for Information and a recent NLM blog post that contains more information about NLM’s work on health services research resources. Responses are due November 6, 2020.
Major U.S. Climate Initiative Benefits Children’s Health
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was started in 2009 and was the nation’s first regional cap-and-trade- program designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. Nine participating states in the northeast were required to limit emissions from certain fossil fuel power plants. RGGI is focused on reducing greenhouse gases, but it has also lowered other pollutants.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently published a study that shows RGGI has reduced fine particulate matter emissions and improved children’s health. They estimate that hundreds of cases of childhood asthma and preterm births were avoided between 2009 and 2014. They also estimated economic savings of $191 to $350 million during the same timeframe. To make these estimates, the researchers used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program tool.
In our podcast, When Wildfires Hit Close to Home, learn how NIEHS-funded researchers study urban wildfires to better understand these complex exposures and how they affect human health. The podcast also covers how information from these studies could help communities better prepare for future urban wildfires.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Ph.D., who is interviewed in the podcast, is the director of the NIH-funded Environmental Health Sciences Core Center at the University of California, Davis.
PEPH Grantee Highlight
Weihsueh Chiu, Ph.D.
Weihsueh Chiu, M.D., helps decision makers and communities make science-based decisions to protect health. He is the Decision Science Core leader for the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Program Center. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Chiu and his team worked with communities to identify priorities and then built a data visualization tool that assisted communities in addressing local concerns.
More recently, he and his team developed the COVID-19 Pandemic Vulnerability Index. The tool integrates data on infection rates, population concentration, current interventions, health care resources, air quality, and helps decision makers prioritize resources and inform decisions.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and NIEHS have special interest in applications aiming to investigate the impact of personal interventions to reduce exposure to particulate matter (PM) in air pollution on cardiovascular and pulmonary (cardiopulmonary) outcomes. This notice specifically encourages intervention studies or clinical trials that examine the efficacy of personal air pollution interventions to reduce the adverse cardiopulmonary effects of Particulate Matter (PM) <2.5 µm in diameter (PM2.5) in high risk or vulnerable participants. Personal level interventions are defined as approaches used to reduce an individual's PM2.5 exposure (from indoor and outdoor sources) and commonly include indoor portable air cleaners (PACs) and facemasks (e.g., N95 respirators). A growing body of evidence suggests that personal interventions can reduce exposure to PM2.5 and improve surrogate markers of cardiometabolic risk. However, while several strategies exist, the most relevant interventions feasibly implemented in large populations are understudied.
Deadline: October 5, 2020
Stimulates and promotes collaborative basic, translational, and clinical research between U.S.-based researchers and Indian researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of environmental insults on children and adults across all organ systems (e.g., pulmonary, cardiovascular, cancer, and neurological disorders). NIEHS and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) are interested in supporting collaborative research and research training through joint U.S.-India partnerships that address or seek to understand how exposures to toxic environmental insults alter biologic processes and are linked to disease initiation, progression, or morbidity. To promote these collaborative efforts, the partnering U.S. and Indian investigators must work jointly to submit identical applications to NIH and ICMR, respectively.
Deadline: October 15, 2020
Addresses the urgent need for mission-relevant research to understand the impact of environmental exposures on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its causative agent, the virus SARS-Cov-2. NIEHS is particularly interested in applications that will provide insight into the role of environmental exposures in pathogenicity, transmission, individual susceptibility, or prevention and intervention strategies. Examples of environmental exposures relevant to the NIEHS mission include: toxic chemicals, air pollutants, second hand tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vapors, metals, and other environmental chemical exposures that may impact health outcomes. NIEHS is accepting applications addressing COVID-19 through the administrative supplement, urgent competitive revision, and time-sensitive mechanisms.
Deadlines: November 2, 2020; December 1, 2020; January 4, 2021; February 1, 2021; March 1, 2021; April 1, 2021; May 3, 2021
Supports research to advance our understanding of the impact of extreme weather and disaster events in aging human populations. This FOA (PAR-19-250) and its companion FOA (PAR-19-249), which focuses on underlying mechanisms of aging utilizing animal models, will help explicate the behavioral, biological, and socioecological processes that occur during extreme weather or disaster events that affect aging processes. Through the integration of the population studies and the companion mechanistic studies FOA, the goal is to improve the health and well-being of older adults via increased knowledge about extreme weather and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
Deadline: November 9, 2020; March 8, 2021
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Creates a national network of children's environmental health translation centers. Through external collaboration with the children's environmental health community, centers will protect and improve children’s health by developing and testing new scientific questions and public health interventions/strategies and by mentoring a pipeline of new investigators interested in translational children’s environmental health. These centers will serve as leaders in children’s environmental health translational research and research methodology development, with a focus on creating actionable steps to move evidence-informed biomedical, behavioral, psychosocial, environmental research findings in children's environmental health to the wider community. The collective collaborative center program will also serve as a national research resource to support response efforts to emerging environmental exposures affecting children.
Deadline: November 23, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due October 23, 2020
Supports research education activities that complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. The intent of this FOA is to encourage applications to develop and conduct short-term research education activities with the goal of improving knowledge and skills needed to conduct environmental health research. Short courses submitted under this FOA are expected to include relevant intensive hands-on training in environmental health science topics. In addition to in-person instruction, courses that incorporate innovative or novel education models, such as project-based learning or virtual instruction, are encouraged.
Deadline: November 30, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Encourages research with NIH-designated health disparity populations and other vulnerable groups on community interventions to address the adverse psychosocial, behavioral, and socioeconomic effects of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Applications are sought to test: 1) the impacts of mitigation strategies to prevent COVID-19 transmission and acquisition; and 2) already implemented, new, or adapted interventions to address the adverse consequences of the pandemic on the health of these groups
Deadline: December 1, 2020
Fosters and promotes early-stage transdisciplinary collaborations and/or translational research efforts among fundamental (technology and mechanism oriented), clinical (patient-oriented) and population-based researchers in the environmental health field. The collaborative teams will come together in common interest to investigate potential linkages between human health and one or more environmental stressor(s). The ViCTER program is intended to support innovative high-risk, high-reward cross-disciplinary and/or translational research projects that are more difficult to achieve in a typical R01 application. Collaboration among investigators at different institutions through a virtual consortium arrangement are encouraged.
Deadline: December 1, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Encourages multidisciplinary projects to investigate the potential health risks of environmental exposures of concern to a community and to implement an environmental public health action plan based on research findings. Projects supported under this program are expected to employ community-engaged research methods to not only conduct research but also to seamlessly translate research findings into public health action.
Deadline: December 4, 2020
Check out the Research to Action Currently Funded Grantees webpage for a sense of the types of projects supported through this FOA.
Supports research to test community interventions focused on the prevention (or slowing) of COVID-19 transmission, evaluate local and state policies and programs intended to mitigate COVID-19 exposure and improve adherence, and reduce the negative impact of the multifaceted consequences on the health of populations who experience health disparities and other vulnerable groups. This may include leveraging and scaling existing resources (e.g., health education materials, technology, social media, mass media, social support networks, social services). In domains and populations in which the evidence base is limited, the development, testing, and implementation of novel or adapted interventions to address the negative health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may also be needed to address the unique needs of populations.
Deadline: On a rolling basis through December 15, 2020
Provides new healthcare professionals with state-of-the-art environmental health training that blends academic research and practice-based applications in real-world settings. The program will provide supervised research career development opportunities to assist junior faculty. The goal of the Pediatric and Reproductive Environmental Health Scholars (PREHS) program is to create of a strong network of healthcare professionals who possess the skills and knowledge to address the complexities of pediatric and reproductive environmental health. Applications for this award must propose a comprehensive career development and research plan that: (1) has environmental health research relevant to pediatrics and reproductive health and is within the mission of the NIEHS, (2) serves as a mechanism for gaining research competencies in environmental medicine related to pediatrics and reproductive health to advance scholars' medical knowledge, patient care, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and systems-based practice, and (3) provides scholars with the necessary environmental public health and clinical expertise to advance their careers as academic researchers and physician scientists, such as improving scientific and grant writing skills, developing effective advocacy skills, and fostering expertise in risk assessment and risk communication.
Deadline: January 15, 2021
Letter of Intent: December 15, 2020
Administrative supplements to support research highlighting health disparities among women in the US who are underrepresented, understudied, and underreported (U3) in biomedical research. The common pathways for the manifestations of ill health and disease, differential risk, risk exposure, resilience, morbidity, and mortality at the individual, community, and national levels are areas of particular research interest. Proposed research must address at least one objective from the strategic goals 1, 2, or 3 of the 2019-2023 Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women's Health Research "Advancing Science for the Health of Women."
Deadline: January 21, 2021
Supports summer research experiences in the environmental health sciences for high school students; college undergraduates; master’s degree candidates; medical students; secondary school science teachers; and science professors from community, junior, or technical colleges as well as primarily undergraduate institutions. These supplements are intended to introduce students and teachers to research in the environmental health sciences that would not otherwise be available to them through their regular course of study.
Deadline: January 25, 2021
Supports problem-based, solution-oriented research Centers that consist of multiple, integrated projects representing both the biomedical and environmental science and engineering disciplines; as well as cores tasked with administrative (which includes research translation), data management and analysis, community engagement, research experience and training coordination, and research support functions. The scope of the Superfund Research Program Centers is taken directly from the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, and includes: (1) advanced techniques for the detection, assessment, and evaluation of the effect on human health of hazardous substances; (2) methods to assess the risks to human health presented by hazardous substances; (3) methods and technologies to detect hazardous substances in the environment; and (4) basic biological, chemical, and physical methods to reduce the amount and toxicity of hazardous substances.
Deadline: February 15, 2021
Letter of Intent: January 15, 2021
The workshop focused on biomarkers of effect, which are molecular changes that result from exposure to environmental and social stressors.
The scientific director of the NIEHS Division of the National Toxicology Program recently spoke with a group of international scientists.
New study builds on similar findings in children, supports hygiene hypothesis.
An NIEHS grant recipient started a new teaching series at Johns Hopkins University that helps youth protect themselves and others.
JunFrom Research to Implementation: A Community Partnership Improves Air Quality Near Metal Recycling Plants
MarBuilding Community Capacity for Sustainability: Monitoring Air Quality Along the U.S.-Mexico Border
Dec"Know Better Live Better" Social Impact Campaign Engages African-American Women in Environmental Health
FebCommunity-University Partnership Reveals Ongoing Contamination of Alaska Native Villages and the Environment