Health speaker series kicks off

Conner Howard

The College of Public Health’s Fall 2010 speaker series led off with Susan Bondy, who gave a presentation on epidemiology in Moulton Hall Ballroom noon Wednesday.

Bondy’s presentation centered on epidemiology, the science of describing how social behaviors and social position are linked to disease, as well as the role of epidemiology in public health and the reduction of the burden of disease in human populations.

According to Bondy’s presentation, epidemiology both benefits and differs from psychology, sociology and the other social sciences in the sense that epidemiology is a less exact and less committed science. To make this point, Bondy described epidemiologists as evidence-based friendly cynics.

During the presentation, Bondy demonstrated her past work on the Ontario Tobacco Survey, which included cross-sectional surveys to measure the effectiveness of measures designed to reduce smoking in Canada, such as nicotine replacement therapy. Bondy used this example to stress the importance of monitoring research and measurement of success.

While working on the Ontario Tobacco survey, Bondy found a lack of data on “blue collar smokers,” who she said tend to avoid surveys on tobacco use, and a tendency of preferential hiring and discrimination of smokers by employers. Bondy utilized this past experience to demonstrate how epidemiology relies on social phenomena to measure the effect of disease and substance abuse in society.

Bondy is an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. She has participated in policy making at the federal and provincial level of Canadian government, speaking on evidence presented to influence laws regarding warning labels, health advisories and other issues. She has also researched social epidemiology and abuse of substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

Scott Olds, professor of social and behavior science in Kent State’s College of Public Health, was involved in the decision to bring Bondy to speak at Moulton Hall. He said there were several reasons that made the decision an easy one.

“We wanted to launch our new College of Public Health speaker series,” Olds said. “We wanted to bring in an epidemiologist, which is how (Bondy) qualifies. There was some interest in our faculty of wanting to look at some of the social factors that she talked about today that influence the disease development process.”

Olds said he had worked with Bondy in the past on projects under the National Institutes of Health regarding the relationship between college student drinking and academic performance. Olds thinks the students of Kent State’s School of Public Health could learn a lot from Bondy and her work.

“You’re exposed to an international perspective, as Canadian culture really does look at health a little bit differently than we do here in the United States,” Olds said. “They’ve been very actively involved and engaged in surveillance of the epidemiological and political realm in many of the issues that she’s talked about. I’m hoping the students will recognize that epidemiology is an important tool in our public health arsenal, if you will.”

Bondy also had hopes for what students would take away from her presentation.

“I hope they learn it can be exciting to take some of their research skills into a public health applied setting. I hope they’ll take away that they have to learn their Bio-stats because they have to have the evidence to take into the policy spectrum,” Bondy said. “Policy makers lean very heavily on people who can provide them with evidence that speaks to them, and they ask us for it.”

You can contact Conner Howard at [email protected].