Melissa Blythe Harrell, PhD

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Associate Professor, Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences

Melissa Harrell, PhD, MPH is a behavioral epidemiologist with 15 years of experience in the design, implementation, and analysis of large-scale intervention trials and epidemiologic studies designed to promote the health of adolescents and young adults. Dr. Harrell completed her undergraduate studies at the College of William & Mary (1991) in Virginia and received her MPH (Community Health Education, 1999) and PhD (Behavioral Epidemiology, 2002) from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Since 2006, she has served on the faculty with the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin with the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. She is an Associate Professor, with appointments in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Harrell has a long standing interest in promoting health and preventing disease, particularly that of young people. She has been integrally involved in leading roles in a number of large-scale intervention trials for young people. These trials have addressed multiple issues relevant to adolescent health (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and physical activity) and have been conducted in rural and urban settings in the United States and in international settings like India and Uruguay. These trials have involved thousands of young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and have tested the effectiveness of an array of intervention strategies, from school-based curriculum to youth-led activism.

Much of Dr. Harrell’s portfolio focuses on tobacco use, which remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States and globally. Dr. Harrell was a Senior Editor of the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report on Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People, which comprehensively reviewed all of the science behind reducing tobacco use among youth and young adults, globally. In 2016, she also served as a Senior Scientific Editors for the Surgeon General’s Report on E-cigarette Use among Young People, which was the first federal report of its kind. In both reports, she oversaw the development of extensive chapters on the epidemiology of a wide variety of tobacco use behaviors.

She currently serves as the Associate Director of the Texas Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (Texas TCORS) and leads one of its three primary research studies, too. The latter, called TATAMS (Texas Adolescent Tobacco and Marketing Surveillance Study), is a population-based, large-scale investigation of tobacco use behaviors (e.g., e-cigarettes, cigarettes, hookah, etc) among middle school and high school youth (n=3907; N=461,069) in the four largest metropolitan areas of Texas (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin). Findings from this study inform not only intervention programs, but also FDA’s regulation of and communication about tobacco products in the United States.

In 2005, Dr. Harrell was named “Outstanding Young Prevention Scientist” by the Society for Prevention Research in the United States; and in 2009, she was awarded “Outstanding Young Investigator” for the UTHealth Science Center. She has served in leading roles (e.g., Principal Investigator) on 10 federally funded studies to date. She has also won several teaching awards at the School and has more than 110 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters. Almost half of these publications include students and trainees as first or second authors, underscoring Dr. Harrell’s commitment to mentoring and teaching the next generation of public health professionals.

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Current Projects

Activate Ya

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The purpose of this study is to develop and test the efficacy of a multiple-component intervention to prevent tobacco use and promote physical activity for 7th-8th graders in Uruguay.

Texas Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science on Youth & Young Adults

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The overall goal of the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) on Youth and Young Adults is to develop an integrated program of research and training to provide scientific evidence, and a career path for regulatory scientists, to support U.S. tobacco regulation.

Recent Publications

Real Time assessment of young adults' attitudes towards tobacco messages

(Hébert ET, Vandewater EA, Businelle MS, Harrell MB, Kelder SH, Perry CL; Tob Regul Sci.; 2018)

Type of e-cigarette Device used among adolescents and young adults: Findings from a pooled analysis of 8 studies of 2,166 vapers

(Barrington-Trimis JL, Gibson LA, Halpern-Felsher B, Harrell MB, Kong G, Krishnan-Sarin S, Leventhal AM, Loukas A, McConnell R, Weaver SR; Nicotine Tob Res.; 2018)

Positive outcome expectations and tobacco product use behaviors in youth

(Creamer MR, Delk J, Case K, Perry CL, Harrell M; Subst Use Misuse.; 2017)

Recall of point-of-sale marketing predicts cigar and e-cigarette use among Texas youth

(Pasch KE, Nicksic NE, Opara SC, Jackson C, Harrell MB, Perry CL; Nicotine Tob Res.; 2017)

Geospatial associations between retail tobacco outlets and current use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes among youth in Texas

(Pérez A, Chien LC, Harrell MB, Pasch KE, Obinwa UC, Perry CL; J Biom Biostat.; 2017)

Recent News

UTHealth researchers find e-cigarette flavors linked to use in youth and young adults

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Flavored e-cigarettes and e-cigarette marketing could be increasing e-cigarette use among youth and young adults, according to researchers from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin.