On Monday, Duke researchers released a paper in the journal Pediatrics documenting their findings on childhood obesity in the United States, and the results are alarming.
Despite a host of programming to combat things like sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, childhood obesity continues unabated, with a worrisome increase in severe obesity for 2 to 5 year olds. Analyzing data from the Center for Disease Control’s annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Duke and Wake Forest University researchers also identified disparities along racial/ethnic lines with African American and Hispanic children experiencing higher rates of obesity than their White and Asian American peers.
The current findings run counter to previous reports that childhood and adolescent obesity had stabilized or even decreased in recent years. It also suggests that current efforts to combat obesity are insufficient and may only be impacting specific areas of the country. Associate professor of population health sciences and lead researcher on the analysis, Asheley Skinner, put the findings into perspective: “Obesity in the youngest group is a concern…because when obesity starts younger, most of these children continue to have obesity throughout childhood and into adulthood.” In the long term, the implications of such trends range from increasing medical costs for concomitant diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure to decreasing life expectancy.
The Duke Team that collaborated on the recent report works out of Duke’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research, established in January 2017 under the Department of Pediatrics. Of particular interest is the Center’s stated goal to translate original research into policy change “by collaborating with legislators and key decision-makers and providing them with expertise and advice.”
As part of Policy Bridge’s mission to connect Duke researchers with policymakers, we’ve launched a new series in Duke Today highlighting policy engagement efforts led by faculty and researchers across campus. The inaugural article highlights research scientist Katie Rosanbalm, who works with schools and child services agencies across North Carolina to better identify and treat children affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). From focus groups with care providers to collaborations with nonprofits, Rosanbalm’s community-based research is already seeing results. One pilot program in Rowan County has resulted in fewer hospitalizations and crisis center services requested since its inception four years ago.
Would you like us to highlight your research in the next installment? To inquire about our engagement story series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair of Duke’s Math Department and North Carolina native, Professor Jonathan Mattingly, has changed the course of the state’s history with his data-driven research on gerrymandered districts. Earlier this month, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional gerrymanders created to disproportionately benefit the Republican party – and they cited Mattingly’s research in the lead opinion.
By creating thousands of simulations of possible districts – and applying a host of other statistical techniques – Mattingly works with a team of Duke students to understand if real-life congressional districts were shaped to favor one political party over another, i.e. if they have been victims of gerrymandering. The group’s work is part of the Data+ program, a 10-week summer research experience for Duke undergraduates interested in tackling interdisciplinary challenges through data analysis, just one initiative of the overarching Information Initiative at Duke. Check out the team’s website for more details about the diagnostic tool they use to quantify gerrymandering in North Carolina and seven other states (Arizona, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin).
Mattingly’s research is actively influencing the future of politics in North Carolina, although the case’s resolution is not yet clear. The federal panel of judges that declared the districts unconstitutional had ordered the NC General Assembly to enact a remedial plan by January 24th. On January 18th the Supreme Court agreed to freeze the lower court’s opinion, most likely delaying political justice for another election cycle.
Researchers at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy released a report in December reviewing nationwide prison management practices and providing specific recommendations for the state’s prison systems. In the wake of an investigative series in the Charlotte Observer detailing serious violations within the state’s prisons, the NC Governor’s Crime Commission had tasked Duke researchers with finding potential solutions to an intransigent problem: prison staffing and security.
Lead researcher and recent Sanford graduate, Caitlin Saunders, joined Joel Rosch, senior researcher and policy liaison for the Center for Child and Family Policy, in a recent podcast summarizing their key findings. After an extensive literature review, interviews with national organizations and in-depth interviews with seven state-level prison systems, the researchers ultimately came up with three broad categories of recommendations for the state of North Carolina: invest in personnel, establish a cohesive organizational culture, and improve facility safety.
In speaking with prison administrators across the country, Caitlin and her team found that the issues North Carolina faced in hiring, screening, training and retaining correctional officers were ubiquitous. One surprising finding: hiring and retaining staff in prisons isn’t all about the money. In fact, according to Caitlin, states with the highest salaries don’t have the lowest vacancy rates precisely because employees care more about their workplace environment, professional development opportunities, and feelings of efficacy than their paycheck alone.
The report was also highlighted on January 9th on the news show Capital Tonight and will serve as a tool for policymakers as they look to reform North Carolina’s prison systems.
On December 8th, 2017, The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity released a new research brief on the concept of civic wealth, written in collaboration with the Scholars Strategy Network and Insight Center for Community Economic Development. All three organizations work to translate research into policy, and their latest research is doing just that.
The Research Brief introduces a new concept through which to understand the current and historical political landscape in the United States: civic wealth. Using economic wealth as a parallel notion, the authors posit that civic wealth is a combination of a person or community’s civic assets minus their civic liabilities. Civic assets may include qualities such as a higher sense of efficacy, high political knowledge or social connectedness. Civic liabilities take away the ability to fully participate in politics, including such things as mass incarceration, stigmatization, voter suppression or caregiver responsibilities.
Using civic wealth as a framework for understanding civic participation can inform efforts to engage marginalized communities in the political process. The authors argue that “failure of scholars and practitioners to correctly diagnose the cause of low levels of civic participation lead to ineffectual prescriptions” and that “the concept of “civic wealth” is a productive corrective.” While the concept is still being “operationalized” it has the potential to provide policymakers with a better understanding of the forces driving (and discouraging) political participation, leading to more effective solutions for mobilizing marginalized communities.
To learn more about the research, check out the authors behind the brief:
- Avi Green, Executive Director of the Scholars Strategy Network
- Jamila Michener, Professor of Government at Cornell University
- Shauna Shames, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University
- Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Director of Racial Equity and Strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development
On Tuesday, November 14th, Professor Peter Feaver testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lending his expertise on Presidential “Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons.” It was the first time since 1967 that Congress had held a committee hearing to determine what legislative checks and balances exist around nuclear command and control – an increasingly salient topic given the President’s rhetoric on Twitter and other fora vis-à-vis North Korea.
With dual appointments in political science and public policy, Professor Feaver has researched and worked in American military strategy for over 30 years, including as Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform on the National Security Council Staff at the White House (2005-2007). He currently serves as Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and Director of Duke’s American Grand Strategy Program (AGS). Feaver joined former military commanders and Department of Defense officials on Tuesday to provide expert opinion and recommend next steps for updating the country’s nuclear policies.
In a succinct testimony followed by an open question and answer session, Feaver educated committee members on the complexities of our country’s nuclear strategy, past and present. He began by describing the importance of maintaining a credible nuclear deterrence component, then emphasized the need for more investments to keep our nuclear technology up to date. Next, Feaver indicated that the best reforms to nuclear command and control should involve maximizing deliberation time – leveraging the human element in decision-making to further mitigate risks. He ended with a plea to act now to review the nuclear command and control which “is likely…overdue for some major (and expensive) upgrades.”
Duke professors regularly testify before Congress to lend their expertise and share research-related findings to policymakers on a variety of issues. Feaver’s invitation to speak at Tuesday’s hearing is testament to the continuing role that academics play beyond the “ivory tower,” working together with policymakers to strengthen our country’s policies through better informed decision-making.
Duke’s engagement with the broader policy community is driven not only by faculty but also by students like Madhu Vulimiri, a second-year public policy candidate at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Madhu recently joined two senior healthcare leaders in a conversation with Frank Stasio from North Carolina public radio to provide her expert opinion on best practices to improve the state’s healthcare system.
It’s a problem faced by healthcare systems around the nation: a small group of “super users” account for a disproportionate amount of Medicaid costs. Sometimes referred to as “frequent flyers,” these patients create huge expenses because they frequently visit hospitals instead of using preventative care, receiving sub-optimal treatment that doesn’t get to the root of their health problems. Such patients often suffer from other social determinants of health such as substance abuse or homelessness, and thus require a more holistic care environment – one that entails building relationships with social workers, community health workers, and building bridges to coordinate services across the healthcare system.
In North Carolina, such a holistic understanding of health is more salient than ever as the state is poised to move from a fee-for-service system to a managed care system. Instead of the state paying providers directly for volume of care, North Carolina will contract with private insurance companies to pay a fixed amount per month for a group of patients under a provider’s purview. Madhu worked last semester with a cross-disciplinary Bass Connections team to analyze models in other states, take a closer look at Medicaid reform proposals from the former and current governor’s office as well as the General Assembly, and provide actionable recommendations to the North Carolina policymakers and citizens on the question: “What is the best path forward for Medicaid in North Carolina?”.
On April 25th, 2017, Madhu and her Bass Connections team hosted a presentation and discussion in Raleigh for policymakers and citizens where they submitted a report detailing their findings. On that same day, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services requested public comments on Medicaid reform and the team submitted a public comment highlighting recommendations from their full-length report.
Bass Connections is a university-wide initiative that brings together interdisciplinary groups of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students to apply “knowledge, research and skills in problem-solving, with engagement from community partners.” Projects span an array of policy topics from global health to energy and environment, drawing on the wealth of information and thought leadership at Duke to find solutions to some of the most vexing policy questions.
Want to learn more? Contact email@example.com to find out what projects are in the pipeline!
On a recent CBS segment “Where are jobs being created in clean energy?” Reena Ninan interviewed Duke Professor Brian Murray to get his expert opinion on the future of energy jobs.
Murray is director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and interim director of the Duke University Energy Initiative. He has researched extensively on cap-and-trade programs as well as the effectiveness of renewable energy subsidies.
In the interview with Ninan, Professor Murray described a long term trend in the power sector away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable energy sources. He mentioned that the Trump administration’s proposed subsidies to the coal industry may decrease the pace of change but also highlighted the important contribution to job growth that solar energy has created…precisely in those states that helped put Trump into office. From 2016 to 2017, solar energy jobs increased by nearly 6,000% in Alabama, with notable increases in other Southern and Midwestern states including Mississippi, Montana, Idaho and Michigan. In fact, 8 of the 10 fastest growing U.S. solar markets are in “red” states.
When asked why solar energy is growing in “Trump states” Murray explained that it is, “mostly because that’s really where the sun is” – large swathes of open land and uninterrupted sun exposure in rural America provide the perfect environment for solar energy farms. According to Murray, wind and solar power combined created about half a million jobs last year alone.
On October 19th, Policy Bridge brought twenty state policy makers and Duke researchers together in the offices of Governor Roy Cooper to explore areas for collaboration related to the opioid crisis. The objectives of the meeting were:
- To help state officials better understand the range of resources at Duke upon which they can draw.
- To alert Duke researchers and clinicians to the issues facing policy makers in order to sharpen the relevance of current and future research, and improve clinical practice.
- To consider whether an ongoing interagency and cross-departmental conversation between Duke and NC State government would be valuable.
The Governor’s Policy Director, Jenni Owen, joined Professor Fritz Mayer to moderate a discussion covering a myriad of issues related to the opioid epidemic in North Carolina. The state-level government representatives in attendance included officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Security, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor’s Office. On the Duke side were researchers representing both social science and hard science perspectives, including the Center for Child and Family Policy, the Health Data Science Center, Government Relations, the Institute for Brain Sciences, the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, and the Duke Health System Opioid Safety Committee.
One primary topic of interest was the divergent views between health practitioners and law enforcement officers regarding the merits of, and best practices around, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Also of note were future legislative efforts by Duke Government Relations and Duke Health System Opioid Safety Committee to provide feedback on the policy implications of North Carolina’s Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act, signed into law by Governor Cooper in late June 2017.
Policy Bridge has made the opioid crisis one of its signature policy areas of interest and will continue to convene meetings aimed at creating stronger networks of communication and collaboration between Duke’s cutting-edge researchers and state policymakers across the spectrum.
Former Mayor of Charleston, Joe Riley, joined a group of students last Friday in a discussion of the challenges and successes he dealt with over an impressive 40-year term leading the South Carolina city. From describing the innovative affordable housing he helped push forward at a time when monolith housing projects were the norm, to navigating the aftermath of the 2015 church shooting, he responded to an array of questions covering dynamic topics.
Mayor Riley talking with Duke students at the Sanford School of Public Policy
Whether the discussion focused on times of crisis or long term strategic planning, one current permeated the conversation: community as the cornerstone of any successful policy. Mayor Riley described his persistent focus on bringing together a variety of citizens and providing outlets for different voices to be heard. When it came to the atrocious hate crime perpetrated against a group of African American churchgoers in 2015, he described the prompt mobilization of his staff as vital to setting the tone for the community. Riley and his team organized an immediate gathering of the victims’ family and loved ones, and was present to deliver the news directly when details were first revealed. He participated in multiple vigils and community gatherings in the following days, crediting the city’s reaction of solidarity to a strong community, long in the making.
The evening before the student breakfast, Mayor Riley joined outgoing Durham Mayor Bill Bell in a public event with nearly 100 attendees focused on the challenges of urban revitalization. Riley spoke about the importance of revitalizing Charleston Place, a central business district that had experienced the same decline as many an urban center in the wake of suburban sprawl. In Durham, Mayor Bell cited the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Bright Leaf Square as critical centers created during his term that brought life back to downtown Durham, drawing people for the restaurants, shopping and businesses.
(Left to Right) Professor Fritz Mayer, Former Mayor Joe Riley, and Durham Mayor Bill Bell
Former Mayor Riley remains busier than ever, working with a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations to continue working on the types of progressive policies he implemented to revitalize Charleston. Among his most important projects is fundraising to commence construction on an African American history museum in Charleston.