A new research facility at Oregon State University will utilize existing knowledge about environmental health risks for children to create new public health interventions and policy changes.
The $5 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will fund the OSU “ASP3IRE” Center, to be housed in the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families as part of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences (CPHHS). Five other Children’s Environmental Health Research Translation Centers will be established at other universities around the country.
“We know a lot about how environmental stressors can negatively affect children’s health. The purpose of this grant is to translate that research into programs and practice that can reduce children’s exposure to harmful environmental factors and improve their health and well-being,” said Molly Kile, lead investigator on the project as well as a professor in the CPHHS.
For instance, research has proven that simple modification in the home can help significantly manage persistent health conditions in children, such as asthma. Researchers at OSU will educate and inform families how to manage asthmatic triggers in the home, as well as how to mitigate seasonal exposure to wildfire smoke.
“Getting this information into the hands of families whose children have asthma and helping empower them to make these changes in their home would have long-term positive impacts on their lives. It is also a public health priority for Oregon, where childhood asthma rates tend to be higher than in other parts of the country,” Kile said.
The ASP3IRE Center will help translate environmental health knowledge into improved quality of life for children via policies and programs that are easily accessible. It will also connect researchers with public health care practitioners, OSU Extension programs, and early learning centers across the state.
“One of our strategies will be to use Oregon as a living laboratory, where we can take the best available science and infuse it across state-level policies, county-level policies and local
practitioners. This type of multi-level approach tends to improve health outcomes more quickly,” Kile said.
The center will provide training to Oregonians about the interventions already accessible. The grant will expand the level of training OSU can offer to educators on how to best protect children from toxins like lead paint.
“A lot of early childhood centers and school settings have no idea that these chemicals are really harmful for children, or how they can control these types of exposures,” said Megan McClelland, Director of the Hallie E. Ford Center. “So we can collaborate with them on ways to mitigate those exposures and replace those chemicals with more friendly products.”
The grant will also fund pilot projects to develop and test new interventions as well as research the most effective outreach techniques and messaging to maximize the implementation of interventions by those who hear about them.
“Part of the work the center will do is filter this information and create appropriate, accessible, evidence-based information and deliver it through trustworthy sources,” Kile said. “In five years, we won’t be able to necessarily measure clinical disease impact, but we should be able to measure increased knowledge and awareness of best practices.”
By Kevin Coalwell