Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy

A Note from the Interim Director

Public health is a topic area that is not well understood. In fact, when I share with people that I am employed at the UI College of Public Health, I'm often asked to explain what I mean by "public health." My answer most often proclaims public health as the prevention of injury and disease followed by an example of public health research or practice that has likely benefited the audience, such as policies that promote clean water and air, or preventing the spread of disease through vaccinations. I talk about campaigns that promote healthy lifestyles, and I typically mention a specific project that I'm focused on at the time. In spite of much practice, I feel as if I don't explain it well enough, because the subject is broad and difficult to put into a 60-second sound bite. Sometimes I describe the approach that we use to solve public health challenges, through assessment, community engagement, collaboration and outreach. Still, the explanation does not effectively demonstrate the impact that public health practitioners and researchers have on the health and well-being of so many!

This newsletter provides a snapshot into the very diverse topic of public health through highlighting some of the work of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy. Currently, several programs are in the works including a childhood obesity prevention program, a project to help individuals better understand and utilize data, and a new collaboratory to develop a real-time data system that will assist in preventing overdose. There is so much more!! I'm convinced that at least one of the public health topics below, will resonate with you, and will encourage you to ask questions or engage in conversation with your friends and colleagues. How has public health influenced your life? Do you want to be part of the public health conversation? Lets talk about the possibilities!!

Professor Sato Ashida Selected as Policy Fellow

The Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) has selected Sato Ashida, UI associate professor of community and behavioral health, as the 2018-2019 Policy Fellow. The year-long Policy Fellow Program creates opportunities for primary faculty to enhance their skills to translate public health research into practice and policy. Each Policy Fellow develops and implements a project focused on a critical public health topic. Ashida’s project will bring key stakeholders together to develop policy to improve the delivery of emergency management services to older Iowans.

Older adults in the community are especially vulnerable to negative health outcomes during and after disasters. If various agencies involved in emergency management had pertinent information provided by and about older Iowans, outcomes of disaster response and recovery processes conducted by state agencies and local emergency management services could be vastly improved. However, there are barriers to gathering and sharing information about individual residents across agencies and institutions.

Ashida previously developed an online program called PrepWise that allows older adults to establish personalized emergency and disaster plans. The plans include information about medical care and medication needs, functional limitations, cognitive difficulties, emergency support network members, service animals, and other important health needs. Now, Ashida’s goal is to develop policy that will allow state and local agencies to access information pertinent to emergency management that PrepWise participants consent to share with agencies in order to enhance the delivery of emergency services to older Iowans.

Her first step will be to establish a core group of individuals comprised of state agencies as well as county experts in emergency management. This group will review efforts in other states and explore dynamics needed to implement a statewide policy that allows incorporating PrepWise into existing disaster management infrastructure. Once policy recommendations are developed and vetted by this broad group, additional stakeholders will be identified and involved in expanding awareness and dissemination of this potentially life-saving tool.

Healthy LifeStars - Iowa

An innovative program that tackles childhood obesity — the number one health problem for children has begun in Iowa. Aimed at elementary-age children, Healthy LifeStars (HLS) motivates and teaches children how to live active, healthy lives now and in the future. The program is offered in partnership with the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy and is provided at no charge thanks to a gift from the Stead Family Foundation and Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, two former Iowans who are among the most generous donors to the University of Iowa.

Nationally, one in three children is overweight or obese. Healthy LifeStars is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood obesity through education, awareness, and changed habits to influence future generations of healthy children. The organization was founded in 2003 to address childhood obesity and has reached over 35,000 kids in Arizona and Colorado. In 2018, HLS launched programs in Iowa and Ohio and has the goal of growing nationwide.

“We are thrilled to introduce this program in Iowa and expand it statewide,” says Vickie Miene, Interim Director of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) and Director of the Iowa Healthy LifeStars program. “Our goal is to enroll over 5,000 children in the first three years in both urban and rural locations across the state.”

The LifeStar Challenge began in Iowa this fall, with the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County as the inaugural site in the Iowa City area. The program is delivered in before-and after-school programs and is provided in part by University of Iowa student coaches. “We are building a network of UI student volunteers who are an integral part of getting this program off the ground in Iowa,” Miene explains. “UI students from a variety of majors have already been trained as LifeStars coaches and others will contribute ideas to the program through a UI student advisory council. In addition, UI students will contribute to social media articles and healthy lifestyle campaigns associated with the program.” IIPHRP will partner with additional schools, youth-serving organizations, and health initiatives to continue to grow the program across the state.

The Healthy LifeStars program teaches children and their families three Healthy Life Habits: setting personal health goals, taking part in vigorous physical activity every day, and eating the right foods in the right amounts. "The program is flexible, so it’s easy to implement in a variety of settings,” says Miene. For more information about the program, visit https://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/healthy-lifestars/.

Big picture

New Collaboratory plans to Collect Data to Help Prevent Drug Overdose in Iowa

A collaboratory is a creative group process designed to solve complex problems by bringing together partners from different backgrounds and disciplines to expand the scope, scale, and impact of critical public health research. Brandi Janssen, a clinical assistant professor in Occupational and Environmental Health, and her team, will lead a collaboratory to prevent overdose through the development of a data warehouse. The project is intended to be a first step toward developing the Iowa Substance Use Data Set, a multi-stream, multi-sourced, comprehensive data warehouse for partners, and will include information directly from substance users.

“This data base will be different from existing substance use information sources in that its focus is on timeliness, local relevance, and integration of multiple data sets,” Janssen explains. The team plans to design a data warehouse infrastructure to manage storing, updating, and sharing pertinent substance use data.

In addition to Janssen, the collaborators include:

  • Stephan Arndt, PhD, Professor, Carver College of Medicine, Psychiatry; College of Public Health, Biostatistics; Director, Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation
  • Ryan Carnahan, PharmD, CPH, Associate Professor, Epidemiology
  • Heath Davis, MS ITIL, Lead Application Developer, Bio-Medical Informatics, Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, Carver College of Medicine
  • Juan Pablo Hourcade, PhD, Associate Professor, CLAS, Computer Science
  • Boyd Knosp, MS, Associate Dean for Information Technology, Carver College of Medicine. Associate Director for Biomedical Informatics Operations, Institute for Clinical and Translational Science
  • Anna Merrill, PhD, DABCC, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, Carver College of Medicine; Clinical Chemist, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Iowa City VA Health Care System, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
  • Jennifer Sánchez, PhD, CRC, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Rehabilitation and Counselor Education

INVEST Health Symposium

The Iowa City INVEST Health initiative, in partnership with the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy, and the City of Iowa City sponsored the Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Communities Symposium on June 22, 2018. The event, designed to bring disparate groups together, was attended by 98 individuals ranging in profession from neighborhood residents to journalists, physicians, housing inspectors, teachers, program managers, architects, researchers, government employees, insurers, bankers, public health workers and policy advisers. Distinguished keynote speakers Megan Sandel, Associate Director of the GROW clinic at Boston Medical Center, and Angela Mingo, Director of Community Relations at Children’s Nationwide Hospital in Columbus Ohio provided their perspective and experience’s regarding the intersection of housing and health. Participants heard from a panel of local experts about the importance of collaboration and then engaged in small group work to form next steps for the Iowa City INVEST Health initiative and expand the pipeline of projects. A full review of the symposium can be found at this link


Tackling data

Public Health professionals, members of boards of health, policy makers, and essentially anyone that is working to prevent injury and the spread of disease is expected to use data to inform decisions. However, few are trained to best describe quantitative data while ensuring data integrity. The Iowa Department of Public Health is contracting with the IIPHRP to implement a variety of training sessions and tools to support the use of data for general audiences. Knowledge of data concepts, refreshers of data terms and building various skills to assist in communicating and visualizing data are offered through free training sessions and through various quick bite videos that provide users with a brief visual, animated description of specific concepts. The next Tackling Data training session will be on April 22, 2018. This training session is one day in length and offered in Des Moines Iowa. Click here to register.

To check out the most recent video quick bites, click on the buttons below. To see additional video quick bites, please check out the Tackling Data Website

IIPHRP Leadership

The Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, fosters interdisciplinary collaborations by bringing together researchers, public health practitioners, citizens, community leaders, private partners and policy makers to help shape and inform public health policy.

Vickie Miene, MS, MA, LMHC

Interim Director

Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy

College of Public Health, University of Iowa

Edith A. Parker, DrPH


College of Public Health

Professor of Community and Behavioral Health

University of Iowa