Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

SWCOEH Total Worker Health? faculty Kevin Lanza, PhD, awarded grant to study safe routes to school

SWCOEH Total Worker Health® faculty Kevin Lanza, PhD, awarded grant to study safe routes to school

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023 (Houston) – Kevin Lanza, PhD, a Total Worker Health® faculty member at the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH), was awarded a grant to study healthy environments for school-age children. The study will include an examination of Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a national program to promote walking and bicycling to school in Austin, Texas, that includes improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes.

Dr. David Gimeno, MSc, PhD, the Director of the SWCOEH, is a co-mentor of the grant, “Routes to Environmental Justice: Assessment of Ambient Environmental Exposures for Safe Routes to School Programs.” Lanza’s primary mentor for this study is Dr. Julia Gohlke (Virginia Tech) and Dr. Perry Sheffield (Mount Sinai) serves as a co-mentor. The study is being funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Lanza co-authored two of the first heat management studies undertaken by U.S. cities while a member of the Urban Climate Lab at Georgia Tech. Studying Louisville, Kentucky, and Dallas, Texas, Lanza’s team identified urban heat islands, estimated the associated heat-related mortality, and then modeled the impact of various heat management strategies (tree planting, installation of cool materials) on temperatures and heat-related mortality.

“This study originated from blending my past experiences as a doctoral student in city and regional planning at Georgia Tech and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, part of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health,” Lanza said. As a postdoctoral fellow, Lanza worked on Dr. Deanna Hoelscher’s STREETS study, a pre- and post-assessment of Safe Routes to School.  

“While conducting environmental audits of street segments near elementary schools for STREETS, I thought about the impact of temperature on children walking or bicycling to school,” Lanza said. “I wondered if there were temperature differences along the streets to school, and what heat management strategies could lower temperatures on these streets and promote safe and comfortable walking and bicycling.” “I am interested in learning whether there are significant temperature differences among school routes and whether there are disparities in temperature by racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic characteristics of school neighborhoods,” Lanza said.

“I am also interested in the results of a pilot test within this study in which we are assessing the feasibility of monitoring personal exposures of elementary school children to temperature and air pollution over seven days. Being a career development award, I also look forward to building my knowledge and skills in spatiotemporal modeling, statistical methods, and participatory methods under the guidance of my mentors. Ultimately, I am enthusiastic about how the research products, what I learn, and the relationships built from this three-year experience can inform a subsequent grant proposal that supports the promotion of safe physical activity of children in our changing climate.”

The SWCOEH provides graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health