2020 Faculty Fellows

Lerner Center Faculty Fellow Grant Program Winners, 2020-2021

The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Faculty Fellows Grant Program. The purpose of the Lerner Faculty Fellows Grant Program is to fund population health or health promotion research that focuses on impacting health behaviors, institutions, systems, or policies to reduce risk for and/or consequences of poor health, disease, disability, and/or premature mortality at the individual, community, or societal levels. This year’s winners are:

The Longer-Term Effects of Exposure to Universal Free Meals in Early Childhood Grades
Amy Schwartz, Departments of Economics and Public Administration and International Affairs, Maxwell
Samantha Trajkovski, Center for Policy Research

DESCRIPTION: The importance of school lunch has never been as visible as it is now, with closed schools struggling to feed students facing food insecurity and poor nutrition. While robust evidence documents the deleterious effects of childhood food insecurity on academic and health outcomes (including obesity) and growing evidence shows that school food policy can make a difference in the short run, we know little about the longer-term effects. We aim to fill this gap by studying the Universal Free Meals (UFM) policy, in which a school provides free meals to all students, regardless of income. We address the following three questions: (1) how is exposure to UFM in early childhood (grades K-2) associated with weight and academic outcomes by grade 3? (2) Does this effect persist into later grades? (3) Is the association mediated or moderated by student characteristics, including race/ethnicity, poverty, or neighborhood disadvantage? We use unique longitudinal data on New York City public school students, from 2009- 2017, exploiting the staggered adoption of UFM and school fixed effects regressions. We estimate the association between UFM exposure in K-2 and third grade outcomes, investigate whether – and how – early exposure is associated with student outcomes in later years, and explore heterogeneity across duration and dosage, race/ethnicity, and poverty status. Does exposure to UFM in early childhood grades reduce the incidence of obesity or overweight by third (or 6th) grade? Are there lasting effects on academic outcomes?

Estimating Cardiovascular age in the Community post COVID-19: We are only as old as our Arteries
Kevin Heffernan, Department of Exercise Science, School of Education

DESCRIPTION: The current COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the racial divide in health in the U.S. with African Americans bearing a disproportionate burden of coronavirus-related morbidity and mortality. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors are emerging as prominent risk factors for coronavirus and its related sequela. African Americans have higher CVD risk factor burden and as such are experiencing higher mortality rates from coronavirus. Moreover, the coronavirus may cause acute cardiac damage even in those without a history of CVD. Whether this acute damage has chronic effects on cardiovascular health in survivors of coronavirus remains unknown. If coronavirus does indeed cause permanent cardiac damage, we may be seeing a secondary pandemic of heart attack and stroke in years to come, a pandemic that will likely disproportionally affect African Americans. This study proposes to develop a new metric of CVD risk (related to artery age) that can be easily assessed in community-based (non-clinic) settings without need for advanced equipment or technical expertise and will have equitable predictive capacity across race. Once developed, we will use this metric in a feasibility study assessing the impact of COVID-19 on CVD risk (accelerated artery aging) in our broader CNY community, with an emphasis on assessing racial variation. This research study will be linked to a Healthy Monday campaign that will promote the importance of cardiovascular health for all, will offer information to our community on the possible cardiovascular health implications of coronavirus and how individuals can estimate their artery age to obtain insight into their own cardiovascular health.