UNE researchers pose in front of a poster they presented at the American Public Health Association’s 150th Anniversary Annual Meeting

Center for Excellence in Public Health stars at national gathering of public health researchers

The University of New England’s Center for Excellence in Public Health (CEPH) was well represented at the American Public Health Association’s 150th Anniversary Annual Meeting and Expo, held from Nov. 6 to Nov. 9 in Boston.

Several researchers from the center convened at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to present on a range of topics.

Food and Beverage Marketing

Michele Polacsek Ph.D., M.H.S., professor of public health and director of CEPH, presented a poster, together with UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) student Summer Moukalled (D.O., ’25), on reducing digital food and beverage marketing to students on Monday, Nov 7. The poster was titled “Reducing Student Exposure to Digital Food and Beverage Marketing.”

According to Polacsek, digital marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to students is pervasive and undermines healthy eating.

Portrait of Michele Polacsek

Michele Polacsek

Her study found that expanded use of electronic devices and remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to increased rates of childhood obesity and exacerbated pre-existing health disparities. Given the lack of federal protections, Polacsek said state and local policy interventions to limit digital food marketing in schools and on school-issued devices are needed.

Four areas for potential practice and policy intervention were identified, and policy language for use by state and local education authorities was developed. Recommendations included:

Content Filtering

  • Include food-related content as a content filter category on school networks and school-issued devices
  • Utilize ad-blocking technology on school networks and school-issued devices
  • Prohibit food-related apps on school-issued devices

Digital Instructional Materials

  • Do not use digital materials with food and beverage marketing or recommend their use by students
  • Minimize the collection of student data by digital materials

Communication with Parents and Students

  • Communicate school-related and student activity-related information to parents and students on school-dedicated platforms

Student-Owned Device Use

  • Expand student-owned device use policies to prohibit use during lunch

Barriers to Diabetes Management and Prevention

Evaluators from CEPH presented a poster on a three-phase study of barriers to diabetes management and prevention at the meeting.

The CEPH Chronic Disease Evaluation Team and Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) staff presented a poster describing results from a series of studies conducted from 2019 to 2022 to identify barriers to diabetes prevention and management in Maine.

In keeping with the conference theme, “APHA 2022 — 150 Years of Creating the Healthiest Nation: Leading the Path Toward Equity,” the study focused on examining social determinants of health to inform equitable solutions.

UNE researchers pose in front of a poster they presented at the American Public Health Association’s 150th Anniversary Annual Meeting

Pamela Bruno, Ruth Dufresne, Ashley Duffee, Jessica Eller, and Salva Firdaus.

Across all three phases of the study, the most common barriers were cost, transportation, and awareness as reported by diabetes management and prevention program providers, select primary care sites, and adults in Maine. The poster highlighted efforts that have been implemented or planned by the Maine CDC to address these overarching barriers to create more equitable access to diabetes services.

Presenting from UNE were Pamela Bruno, M.P.H., Ruth Dufresne, M.A., Ashley Duffee, M.A., Jessica Eller, and UNE graduate student Salva Firdaus, M.H.A. (M.P.H.,’23), along with Maine CDC staff Louise Ingraham, M.S., RDN, LD.

Substance Use Disorder Program Assessment

Ruth Dufresne, S.M., senior research associate in CEPH presented on behalf of the Northern New England Clinical Champions Program team, consisting of UNE’s own Selma Holden, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., mentor and project director, College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM); Melanie Caldwell, M.S., Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) grant manager; Micaela Maynard, M.Ed., PCTE grant coordinator; and Lisa Letourneau, M.D., M.P.H., mentor.

Ruth Dufresne

Ruth Dufresne

The presentation, “Assessment of healthcare services in selected FQHCs for persons treated with chronic opioids and for those with opioid or substance use disorder (OUD/SUD),” discussed the program components and a quality improvement assessment tool.

The project provides mentorship, training, and programmatic support to self-identified primary care physicians and physician’s assistants at participating federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Participating FQHCs complete an OUD/SUD care assessment to gain an understanding of the needs of the FQHCs related to care of individuals with chronic opioid treatment and OUD/SUD and to inform quality improvement efforts.

The opioid crisis persists throughout Northern New England. UNE and the program address this issue by assessing practices and promising models for improvement of health care services for people using opioids and other substances and spreading these lessons learned to other FQHCs in a variety of settings. The program was funded by a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Primary Care Training and Enhancement (PCTE) grant.