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Public Health Researchers Present at the 19th Annual National Hispanic Science Network International Conference

The National Hispanic Science Network (NHSN), in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has made significant advances in the field of drug abuse research. Each year, NHSN hosts an annual conference to introduce new topics within the field, while building the necessary network and mentoring opportunities for members. This year, NHSN hosted its 19th annual international conference in Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. 

The three-day conference, held from Oct. 9-11, 2019, focused on exploring life adversities and their impact on the development of chronic diseases among underrepresented minorities. Several graduate students, faculty, and staff from the Miller School of Medicine's Department of Public Health Sciences and the University of Miami's School of Nursing and Health Studies attended and presented at the conference this year.

From the Department of Public Health Science’s Division of Prevention Science and Community Health, Yannine Estrada, Ph.D., assistant scientist, Alyssa Lozano, a second-year candidate in the M.S. in Prevention Science and Community Health program, Alejandra Fernandez, a post-doctoral associate, and Cho Hee Shrader, a candidate in the Ph.D. in Prevention Science and Community Health program, were among the few who participated.

Dr. Estrada presented a poster on the moderators of intervention efficacy for the e-Health Familias Unidas intervention, where she found that acculturation moderated its effects for adolescents, but not for parents. She emphasized that the conference did a good job at helping earlier-career scientists connect and network with experienced researchers.

“We did simple social activities like writing something unique about ourselves and sharing it with each other. I would definitely recommend the conference,” Dr. Estrada said.

Dr. Fernandez, whose research focuses on examining substance use behaviors among Hispanic adolescents and the role that family functioning plays on moderating those behaviors, said that the conference helped her make those necessary connections.

“I was fortunate to attend NSHN and interact with incredibly established scientists in my research field, particularly in health disparities for the Hispanic population,” Dr. Fernandez said. “I also feel that NSHN provided a lens of where health disparities research is headed and what is at the forefront of projects getting funded by national funding agencies.”

In the conference’s social and behavioral category, Ms. Lozano received the national award of excellence for the best poster by a new investigator. Seth Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of public health and director of the Ph.D. in Prevention Science and Community Health program, also received a national award for excellence in mentorship.

Ms. Lozano’s project examined the relative efficacy of Familias Unidas for Health and Wellness in increasing physical activity levels and improving dietary intake and preventing substance use and sexual risk behaviors among Hispanic adolescents.

“We found that consistent with prior studies, the intervention had long-term reduction effects on alcohol and drug use, and short-term effects on a seven-day vigorous physical activity,” Ms. Lozano said. "The results support the relative efficacy of an existing evidence-based family intervention that was enhanced with content related to obesity prevention."

Denise Vidot, Ph.D., assistant professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies and an alumna of the Ph.D. in Epidemiology program at the department, also attended, along with Sandra Garcia and Jingxing Liu, who are Ph.D. candidates in the epidemiology program and who also presented at the conference. Ms. Liu was the one and only non-Hispanic attendee at the conference, representing the Asian ethnic group.

“This is my very first time being a mentor to Ph.D. in epidemiology candidates, while also being an alumna of the program. NHSN was one of the best first conferences that I went to and it is rewarding to be able to give back,” said Dr. Vidot.

Both Ms. Garcia and Ms. Liu analyzed population-level data for their projects at the conference, specifically on racial and ethnic differences. Ms. Garcia presented a poster on cannabis and diabetes, while Ms. Liu focused on metabolic syndrome among emerging adults. 

Dr. Vidot, who mentors both Ms. Garcia and Ms. Liu, also accompanied Lizelh Ayala, who recently graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Public Health Bachelor of Science in public health program. Ms. Ayala presented a poster of quantities of blood in urine and cardiovascular risk.

Ms. Shrader, who presented two projects at the conference, said that attending is an excellent opportunity for investigators of all stages of their career to learn more about Hispanic health disparities.

“I have made several great connections at NHSN, some of whom I know I will work with on future projects. NHSN is a nourishing environment that is focused equally on professional development and on sharing research,” she said. “Despite both of us being at UM, I only met Dr. Vidot at the conference. She has already offered a spectacular opportunity for me to share my experiences at a future conference."

Next year, NHSN will lead the annual meeting from Oct. 14-16, 2020, which will be hosted by Michigan State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Research presented at the conference is across the spectrum of basic sciences to social sciences and allows for a bigger picture understanding of what is happening in terms of Latinx health disparities and how we can close the gap. I will go every year to continue these deep and rewarding relationships,” Ms. Shrader added.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on November 5, 2019