News (all)

  • Dental visits drop for elderly, minorities sharper

    Posted Jul 26, 2019 at 6:30am

    Visits to the dentist drop significantly after adults turn 80, especially among ethnic minorities, according to a study involving researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Since good oral health practices are related to better overall health and a higher quality of life, the findings highlight the importance of identifying racial barriers to dental care for aging adults and developing culturally competent programs to meet the dental needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population.

    “To promote oral health and close racial and ethnic gaps in oral health disparities, seeing a dentist regularly is critical,” said lead author Wei Zhang, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences. “Failure to engage in preventive dental care may lead to serious consequences such as tooth decay, pain, tooth loss and inflammation.”

    20,000+ study participants

    The researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study conducted by the University of Michigan that conducts interviews with a national sample of middle-aged and older adults. They analyzed rates of dental care utilization—measured by whether someone had seen a dentist in the past two years—for 20,488 study participants of different races and ethnicities, including 17,661 U.S.-born and 2,827 foreign-born individuals.

    Seventy percent of adults had visited a dentist in the past two years, but the rate decreased significantly beginning around age 80. U.S.-born adults of all races and ethnicities were more likely to see a dentist (71 percent) than immigrants (62 percent). “The gap in care between U.S.-born adults and immigrants shrunk as people aged, suggesting that age and acculturation may play a role in decreasing oral health disparities over time,” said co-author Yan Yan Wu of the UH Office of Public Health Studies in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work.

    The researchers also found that White adults had higher rates of service utilization than Black and Hispanic adults, and—while the rates of service utilization decreased with age for all groups—the rates of decline for Whites were slower than others.

    “Our study went beyond prior research by confirming that racial and ethnic disparities were substantial and persistent as people became older, regardless of their birthplace and while adjusting for a wide range of factors,” said senior author Bei Wu, Dean’s Professor in Global Health at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and co-director of NYU Aging Incubator. “This finding is alarming as it indicates that some unmeasured factors beyond the scope of this study, such as oral health literacy, perception of need, barriers to access and dissatisfaction with dental care, could play important roles in explaining the disparities in dental care as people age.”

    The study was published online in Research on Aging.

    —Based on a NYU news release.

  • Surprising link found between insulin resistance, avoiding Alzheimer's

    Posted Jul 22, 2019 at 8:35am

    A health condition strongly associated with diabetes may be linked to lower odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to the surprising results of a new public health study from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

    The condition, called insulin resistance, is considered a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. The new study showed that Japanese men in their 70s and 80s with insulin resistance had lower odds of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia than men who did not have insulin resistance.

    “Our findings suggest that more research is needed to better understand the relationship between insulin resistance and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease in older adults,” said Thomas Lee, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology with the Office of Public Health Studies in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work.

    Surprising results

    Normally, the cells of the body respond to insulin by taking up sugar from the blood and using it for energy. But in people with insulin resistance, the cells of the body do not respond properly to insulin, leaving too much sugar in the blood.

    In the study, Lee and his colleagues looked at data from the health records from 1,544 Japanese men participating in an ongoing study called the Kuakini Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, which began in 1991 and is focused on studying the risk factors associated with neurodegenerative disorders.

    At the start, study participants underwent a physical exam that included blood tests. None had Alzheimer’s disease at baseline. Three years later, another physical exam was done and, by then, 80 men had developed Alzheimer’s. The researchers compared the men who had developed the disease with those who had not.

    After adjusting for factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and smoking, the link between insulin resistance and a lower odds of dementia held.

    Previous studies had linked Type 2 diabetes with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but how exactly the link may work is not clear. The researchers noted that the new study excluded men with Type 2 diabetes at the onset, which may have affected the results.

    “Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating condition and there are projected to be 84 million cases worldwide by 2040,” said Kamal Masaki, a co-author on the study and professor of geriatrics with the UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine. “We need a better understanding of the roles of blood sugar and insulin in this disease.”

    The paper is published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

  • Loneliness heightened among gay men in certain age group in China

    Posted Jul 5, 2019 at 6:29am

    Gay men in China ages 25–29 are eight times more likely to feel criticized and rejected compared with men in that country ages 20 or younger, new University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa research shows.

    The reason may be that 25- to 29-year-olds tend to be out of college and in the workforce, where they may face overwhelming social discrimination, according to a study co-authored by Assistant Professor Thomas Lee in the Office of Public Health Studies at the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work.

    “There is great pressure from society and family that may be imposed on Chinese gay men,” said Lee. “We found that these men feel criticized and rejected, and that these feelings are linked with loneliness.”

    The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, is part of a recent effort among public health researchers to develop a better understanding of the mental health of the LGBTQ community.

    Study methodology

    Lee and colleagues administered questionnaires to 367 gay men in China. Some of the surveys were conducted face-to-face, but the majority were administered online. More specifically, the link to the survey was shared with live-chat applications specifically designed for gay men in China.

    The men answered questions that allowed the researchers to measure feelings of loneliness and whether the study subjects were experiencing depression, anxiety or other psychological problems.

    Several of the questions were aimed at measuring the men’s degree of “interpersonal sensitivity,” defined as a person’s propensity to perceive and elicit criticism and rejection from others. People who are high in interpersonal sensitivity may have difficulty in communicating with others and are susceptible to depression and anxiety.

    Study results

    The findings showed that gay men who had no siblings or college degree and who earned less money than average were more likely have a high degree of interpersonal sensitivity and loneliness. Also, those who had experienced more sexual partners during their lifetimes showed lower measures of interpersonal sensitivity and loneliness.

    There was no link between disclosing one’s sexual identity to others and men’s degree of interpersonal sensitivity, however, men who had disclosed their sexual identity to others felt less lonely.

    “Traditional Chinese culture puts a strong emphasis on family inheritance and reproduction,” said Lee. “Our results suggest that we need to be more aware of Chinese gay men’s mental health and that everyone, especially family members, should offer more support to Chinese gay men and work to create a social environment that is more open and inclusive.”

  • Early menopause linked to physical deterioration in older women

    Posted Jul 3, 2019 at 6:52am

    Women who go through early menopause may have worse health later in life, including slowed walking and weakened grip strength, compared to women who experience menopause at the average age or older. This means it’s important for women to have sufficient physical reserves as they enter and complete this phase of life.

    Those are the findings of two international research studies involving faculty in the Office of Public Health Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

    “We investigated how women’s age at menopause may be linked to their physical functioning. Many previous studies have focused on the decrease in women’s bone density that occurs after menopause, but the decrease in muscle strength and the effects of early menopause have been less researched,” said Catherine Pirkle, an assistant professor in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. “Our findings add to a growing body of work that shows going through menopause at an earlier age is linked with poorer health outcomes in later life.”

    Early menopause warnings

    Previous studies have shown that estrogen decline after menopause has a negative effect on women’s bones and heart health, which can lead to worsened physical function over time. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 50 and 52 in high-income countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

    In one of the new studies, Pirkle and her co-authors looked at data from 775 post-menopausal women ages 65 to 74 in Albania, Brazil, Colombia and Canada. The researchers found that those who went through menopause at age 55 or older performed better on a test of walking speed than women who went through menopause between the ages of 50 and 54.

    They also found that the women who experienced menopause before age 40 had significantly lower grip strength compared to those who went through menopause after 40, according to findings published in the journal Maturitas.

    In another study, researchers looked at data from nearly 10,000 women in Canada. The results showed that women who went through menopause before age 40 had a lower walking speed as well as lower grip strength compared to those who went through menopause between the ages of 50 and 54. That paper is published in the journal Menopause.

    A message for older women

    Since walking speed and grip strength are two indicators that researchers use to determine a person’s overall strength and physical functioning, the new findings suggest that it is important for women to have sufficient physical reserves before they enter menopause.

    A general decline in physical function can increase women’s risk for falls, which can lead to disabilities and greatly affect their quality of life. Those who go through early menopause should be considered a priority group for initiatives aimed at improving physical function and promoting healthy aging, the researchers concluded.

    Physical reserves develop earlier in life, when women are younger adults, so the findings suggest that interventions are needed to help women improve their health throughout their lives.

    Pirkle’s co-authors on the studies include Maria P. Velez, Nicole Rosendaal, Beatriz Alvarado and Harriet Richardson, all of Queen’s University in Canada; Saionara Camara of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil; and Emmanuelle Belanger of Brown University in Rhode Island.

  • BA Public Health Graduate Begins Peace Corps Service in Sierra Leone

    Posted Jun 27, 2019 at 10:07am

    Pua Lani Yang of Honolulu has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will depart for Sierra Leone in June 2019, to begin training as a health volunteer.
    “The sustainable model of service that the Peace Corps is founded on really interested me. I wanted to do something that I could feel good about, knowing that my work could potentially grow for years after my service ends,” said Yang.
    Yang is the daughter of Soon Ye and Sung In Yang of Honolulu, and a graduate of President William McKinley High School in Honolulu. She attended University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in public health in December 2018.
    During the first three months of her service, Yang will live with a host family in Sierra Leone to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture. After acquiring the necessary skills to assist her community, Yang will be sworn into service and assigned to a community in Sierra Leone, where she will live and work for two years with the local people.
    “I hope to grow as a more understanding, patient, and confident global citizen,” Yang said. “I especially hope that I will be able to implement projects beyond those I am assigned that will support my community for years to come. I am excited to meet my host family and get started on projects.”
    Yang will work in cooperation with the local people and partner organizations on sustainable, community-based development projects that improve the lives of people in Sierra Leone and help Yang develop leadership, technical and cross-cultural skills that will give her a competitive edge when she returns home. Peace Corps volunteers return from service as global citizens well-positioned for professional opportunities in today’s global job market.
    Yang joins the 25 Hawaii residents currently serving in the Peace Corps and more than 1,483 Hawaii residents who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961.
    About volunteers in Sierra Leone: There are more than 85 volunteers in Sierra Leone working with their communities on projects in education and health. During their service in Sierra Leone, volunteers learn to speak local languages, including Krio, Mende, Temne, Mandinka, SuSu, Limba and Kuranko. More than 3,870 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Sierra Leone since the program was established in 1962.  
    About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today's global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 230,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide. For more information, visit

  • Delta Omega Update: UH Public Health Students Win National Poster Contest

    Posted May 30, 2019 at 7:26am

    This year, public health doctoral students Rica Dela Cruz and Olivia Uchima had winning entries in Delta Omega’s National Student Poster Contest. Delta Omega is the national honor society for public health, and the UH Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) is home of the Gamma Chapter. As winners, they will be featured at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in November.

    Rica and Olivia will each receive $350 from the national Delta Omega office to defray travel expenses to the APHA meeting. Matching funds are provided by OPHS ($350) and from alumni donations to the Elmer J. Anderson Fund at UH Foundation. Congratulations to Rica and Olivia!  

    The Gamma Chapter also hosted its annual Distinguished Lecture and Induction Ceremony on May 8, 2019. This year’s keynote address was presented by Dr. Judy Mohr Peterson, Medicaid Director and Administrator for Med-QUEST, State of Hawaii Department of Human Services. Dr. Peterson spoke on “Medicaid – Bridging Public Health and Health Care Delivery Systems.”  This event is supported by donations to the Public Health Dean’s Fund at UH Foundation.

    At the ceremony, 10 students (including six graduate students and four undergraduate students) and one faculty member were inducted into Delta Omega. Induction into Delta Omega is noted to: “encourage research and scholarship among students of public health and to recognize attainment and achievement in the field of public health.”

    Congratulations to our newest student inductees: Chloe Asato, Marichie Barbasa, Maggie Morris, Wilson Nguyen, Keala Patterson, Jacob Pennington, Dianne Raquiz, Haleigh Romero, David Stupplebeen, and Mika Thompson; and faculty inductee Dr. Catherine Pirkle.

  • Why Community-Based Participatory Research Projects in Hawai`i Are Successful

    Posted Apr 1, 2019 at 9:12am

    When researchers work together with community members to conduct studies to address health disparities, both groups reap the benefits, says a new paper from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers.

    The study was published in the March issue of the Hawaiʻi Journal of Medicine & Public Health.

    Katherine Yang, a recent master’s graduate from the UH Office of Public Health Studies and a current PhD student in epidemiology, and her colleagues conducted detailed interviews with 12 leading local experts. The goal is to learn about their experiences in using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to improve health outcomes and promote health equity.

    “In CBPR, researchers take the time to get to know their communities by being present and listening to their concerns and priorities,” Yang said. “Our analysis showed that CBPR can serve as a bridge between academic researchers and the communities that they study.”

    CBPR projects involve community members not as research “subjects,” but as active participants and co-leaders in all research phases. Community members work closely with researchers to conduct the study from beginning to end.

    Research that uses a CBPR approach starts with an issue that is important to the community, values reciprocal learning and benefits and promotes social action. 

    For example, in one project, researchers who were developing a substance abuse prevention program worked with ōpio (teenagers) in a rural Hawaiian community. The teens took pictures of things that represented Native Hawaiian values to them, and then worked with the researchers to use the photos in designing a public health intervention to prevent substance use.

    In another example, UH researchers worked with Waimānalo families to construct sustainable aquaponics systems, which the families then used to enhance their access to fresh vegetables, fruit and fish. They also learned how to prepare healthy meals.

    “Community members feel engaged when they know their voices matter and that research is relevant to their experiences, concerns and priorities,” said Jane J. Chung-Do, an associate professor with UH public health and co-author of the paper. “We wanted to better understand what makes these projects successful and what we can work on to advance CBPR in Hawai‘i.”

    Analysis of the interviews revealed that a key component for CBPR projects is for researchers to build and sustain relationships and trust within the community. Other important findings were the development of a sense of ownership that community members felt about the project, and the strength-based approach of CBPR that values knowledge and the unique experiences of each community.

    However, there are challenges in promoting CBPR. For example, it is difficult to secure funding for this type of research, which can take longer than conventional research approaches to studying community health. Research grants are often time-limited, and funding agencies typically do not allow for the time needed to build relationships and trust between university researchers and the community. 

    Since the authors noted that their study was small, the next steps would be to expand the study to include perspectives of community partners who have been involved in CBPR and to investigate other factors that might promote CBPR success and, subsequently, improve health.

    “Hawai‘i’s close-knit communities make it an ideal place to conduct CBPR projects,” Yang said. “CBPR projects are growing in Hawaiʻi, and we believe that meaningful community participation in research has the potential to promote health equity.”

    In addition to Yang and Chung-Do, co-authors include Kathryn L. Braun, director of UH public health, and current and former public health students including Loren Fujitani, Alyssa Foster, Shannon Mark, Yuito Okada, Zeyana Saad-Jube and Fadi Youkhana.

    Other co-authors are Kevin Cassel, UH Cancer Center; Scott K. Okamoto, UH Cancer Center and Hawaiʻi Pacific University; Susana Helm and Claire Townsend Ing, both at the John A. Burns School of Medicine; Christy Nishita and Lana Sue Ka‘opua, Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work; Kristine Qureshi, School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene; Peter J. Mataira, Hawai‘i Pacific University; and Karen Umemoto, University of California at Los Angeles.

  • Public Health Journalism Fellowship 2019-20: A collaboration with Public Health, Communication, and Journalism

    Posted Mar 22, 2019 at 10:43am

    UHM Office of Public Health Studies and the School of Communications announce the Public Health Journalism Student Fellowship Program, a competitive program by application for current undergraduate and graduate students from any major at UH Mānoa

  • Tuberculosis Could Be Eradicated in 26 Years, Public Health Report Says

    Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 5:19pm

    The entire world could be free of tuberculosis (TB) by 2045, if world leaders decided today to invest a cumulative amount of at least $2 billion in a year in research and development, leading to effective treatment and prevention of the disease.
    That is the premise of a report in the Lancet Global Health journal written by leading global TB experts and researchers including Victoria Fan, an assistant professor of public health in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

  • UH Public Health Research Reveals That Parenting May Be Hard on the Heart

    Posted Mar 20, 2019 at 4:42pm

    Parents who have five or more children may face a higher risk of heart disease than those who have only one or two keiki, according to new findings from public health researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

     Researchers led by Sara Hipp, a recent graduate of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program, looked at data from nearly 25,000 participants ages 50 and older who took part in a national health survey.

     "Many studies have linked women's reproductive characteristics, such as their age at their first childbirth, with their risk of heart disease later in life," Hipp said. "But there wasn't much known about the association between family size and heart disease, and very few studies have looked at how fatherhood may relate to men's risk of heart disease."