Children’s Health and UTHealth School of Public Health launch new center for pediatric population health in Dallas

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Sarah Messiah, PhD, MPH

HOUSTON – The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health and Children’s Health in Dallas have joined forces to launch a new center focused on improving wellness for children in north Texas.

Pediatric population health expert, Sarah Messiah, PhD, MPH, a prominent researcher in her own right and a new senior faculty member at the School of Public Health, will lead the new Center for Pediatric and Population Health. Messiah has an established record of translation pediatric population research embedded in a large healthcare system.

The center’s vision is to improve the health of pediatric and adolescent populations in north Texas — even before they get sick and need to see a doctor — through state-of-the-art health promotion research and implementation science. The new center will create a healthier future for children by making existing community health programs more evidence-based, effective and extending program reach to even more families.

Research shows that pathways to being healthy begin in childhood and track into adulthood. Children adapt to certain lifestyles and are exposed to conditions that can increase their risks for health issues later in life. Population health serves as a bridge between traditional public health and health care services.

“UTHealth School of Public Health is dedicated to improving the health of Texas’ children and the new relationship with Children’s Health will prove to be a landmark step for our school and for our children,” says Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, dean of the School of Public Health. “The school is fortunate to have recruited Dr. Sarah Messiah to lead this new effort. I look forward to working with Sarah and to learn from her experience, intellect and vision as we grow this center within the school.”

Messiah — who also happens to be a world-class athlete — previously served as a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences, and as co-director of their Division of Community-Based Research and Training. Her career has focused on the population prevalence of health risks that are associated with obesity during the pediatric years, including multi-million dollar projects funded by the NIH and US. Department of Agriculture.

Messiah is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2011 Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research, in 2012 the Miami Dade County Commissioners’ Women Leadership Award for Science and Technology, in 2014 the C.W. Chuck Pezoldt Award for outstanding community service, and in 2016 the outstanding abstract prize at the Obesity Society annual meeting.

She earned a BA in psychology, sport and health from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York; an MPH in epidemiology with a focus on maternal and child health from Florida International University in Miami; and a PhD in epidemiology with a perinatal subspecialty from the University of Miami in Florida.

“The Dallas campus is thrilled to welcome Dr. Messiah to our team,” says Bijal Balasubramanian, PhD, MBBS, regional dean of UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas. “Her commitment to improving the health of vulnerable populations through research and service is aligned with the Dallas Campus mission and we are excited to work closely with her as she develops the Center for Pediatric Population Health research program.”

The center will lead innovative population health research focused on improving the health of children through prevention, improved health outcomes when children become ill or injured and effective use of health care services. Researchers will conduct epidemiologic studies to better understand factors that influence the health of children within population groups, with an emphasis on the social determinants of child health. They will also develop and evaluate health promotion and disease prevention programs to address behavioral and environmental factors to improve pediatric health outcomes. This will lead to a better understanding of the factors that influence the adoption, implementation, and sustainability of effective pediatric health programs. The center can then design and evaluate the dissemination of innovations to expand the use of programs and reach larger portions of populations.

“Part of the focus of Children’s Health is providing the stellar expertise of our medical staff, while remaining efficient with our resources,” says Brenda Paulsen, vice president of Research Administration and Professional Services Operations. “Supporting advances in population health is an effective way for us to serve our mission and make life better for even more children in the north Texas community.”

Through the center, Children’s Health will support new and ongoing multidisciplinary research and community-based programs focusing on prevention, more effective healthcare utilization, and improved outcomes. The center will also serve as a resource to translate scientific findings and knowledge to inform public policies that improve access to health care and help communities create environments that support child and adolescent health.

— Shannon LaDuke