JWS Fall Series Highlights Innovative Work on Place-Based Exposures, Environmental Health, and Domestic Violence


Through its fall session of the Jane Wilson Smith (JWS) Lectureship Series, MAC brought two visiting scholars to share their innovative research on the health impacts of harmful environmental and place-based exposures, and supported a training workshop on domestic violence prevention and care for public health practitioners in the greater New Orleans area.

MAC was thrilled to host Dr. Pauline Mendola to open the JWS fall season. Dr. Mendola is an investigator at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. She shared findings from her large body of work on environmental factors that impact pregnancy health, especially for women with asthma. Her talk, “Developmental effects of air pollution and maternal asthma: obstetric and neonatal risks with long-term consequences” described how women with asthma may be more susceptible to the negative effects of exposure to air pollution and temperature extremes, experiencing greater risk of still birth, pregnancy complications, and adverse birth outcomes, compared to women without asthma. Dr. Mendola’s ongoing B-Well-Mom study (which follows 500 women from their first trimester of pregnancy to 4 months postpartum) will continue to provide insight into our understanding of the ways in which environmental factors predict poor asthma control during pregnancy and fill gaps in our knowledge of the basic immunology of pregnancy.

MAC faculty and staff were also delighted to host social epidemiologist Dr. Chris Morrison with the University of Pennsylvania’s Injury Science center for a special JWS presentation of his work regarding the impact of neighborhood alcohol environments on alcohol consumption and other health behaviors. Dr. Morrison’s research is on the forefront of innovative approaches to measuring neighborhood contexts and their effects residents’ health. Previous research on neighborhood influences on health have relied on conventional approaches to measure place-based exposures, typically utilizing census tract administrative boundaries as a proxy for residential neighborhood. However, residential location may not be the most relevant space affecting health outcomes as individuals are exposed to multiple neighborhood contexts as they go about daily activities. In response to these limitations, the concept of ‘activity space’ has emerged.

Activity space research examines all spaces in which daily activities occur, providing a more precise measure of place-based exposures. Methods to capture such activity space often incorporate global positioning systems (GPS) and have been utilized successful by Dr. Morrison and his colleagues. Dr. Morrison is collaborating with the MAC team and his invaluable insights are enabling MAC researchers to apply activity space methodologies with the goal of achieving a deeper understanding of how neighborhoods in Louisiana may shape the health of women, children and families.

In culmination of the fall series, MAC supported a workshop hosted by Mary E. Schulthesis, director of Crescent City Women, Infant and Children Services, Inc., and WIC staff on Domestic Violence and SIDS Awareness at the Manhattan Regional Library in Harvey. In recognition of National Domestic Violence and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness, the focus of the workshop addressed the effects of domestic violence on children and families.

This training event and others have been sponsored by Tulane Mary Amelia Women’s Center for many years and are also supported by the Healthy Start EPIC Center, Schulthesis said.

Rebecca Levenson, Futures Without Violence consultant, shared information about the reach of domestic trauma. The trauma not only affects the victims and their families but can also affect the emotions of case worker/therapist who provides therapy and counseling services.

One particular tool presented by Levenson was called a “FAN Communication Tool” (Facilitating Attuned Interactions). Levenson used this model to call case workers’ attention to the effects of mindful, self-regulation and empathic listening. The tool promotes collaborative discussions and exploration of a traumatic situation by the provider and client/parent. It also called attention to the importance of building understanding between therapist and client so that reflections on behaviors can promote healthy and safe living conditions for victims whether they are children or adults.