Devon Payne-Sturges
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(301) 405-2025
An overview of Dr. Payne-Sturges' research activities.

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1. Systems Science Approaches for Assessing Cumulative Impacts of Air Pollution and Psychosocial Stressors on Neurocognitive Outcomes Among  Children

It is often surprising to people to learn that our environmental policies and regulations may not be providing equal environmental health protection for all people.  For most of its history, the US Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental regulators have evaluated the risks and health effects associated with exposures to a single pollutant in isolation. This doesn’t reflect people’s experiences. We are all exposed to multiple contaminants at once in the air we breathe, food we eat, and the consumer products we use. Single pollutant risk assessments do not reflect the reality for many communities who are over burdened with multiple sources of environmental pollution.

The research objective of this NIEHS Career Award (K01) is to evaluate the combined effects of ambient air pollution exposures and psychosocial stressors on disparities in children’s neurocognitive functioning using epidemiological and systems science modeling approaches. The central hypothesis is that exposures to multiple environmental contaminant/pollutant and nonchemical stressors create disparities in and enhance adverse neurodevelopment among children. Emerging science is demonstrating enhanced toxic effects of cumulative exposures to chemical and social stressors on cognitive outcomes in children and adults, indicating that these disparate stressors affect common biological substrates. However, current environmental policies regulate single contaminant /pollutant exposures determined in the absence of any social/physical context, likely underestimating true health risks. This project will transform and expand available analytical tools for assessing cumulative risk, resulting in significant implications for public health policies related to environmental decision-making.

Principal Investigator
Project Sponsors
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

2. Environmental Governance, Policy, and Regulatory Decision-Making: A Social History of Cumulative Risk Legislation in Maryland

It is widely recognized that Americans are exposed daily to multiple chemical compounds in our air, food, water, and consumer products, and that many low income and racial and ethnic minority populations bear a disproportionate share of these exposures. Significant research investments have been made to develop methods to assess the combined effects of multiple chemical exposures, and literature on the cumulative health effects of joint exposure to chemical and social stressors is growing. However, little progress has been made to advance federal and state policy responses to scientific findings about cumulative impacts and risk. In Maryland, three bills were recently introduced on cumulative impacts, but none were successful. The primary objective of this study is to explore the challenges related to advancing cumulative impact policy in Maryland. Through routine participant observation, in-depth interviews, and policy analysis, we examine the scientific, social, and political framings of cumulative impacts and risk, and how they are understood and acted upon by legislators, environmental and public health agencies, business leaders, advocates, and other key stakeholders.

Principal Investigators
Project Sponsors
BSOS Dean’s Research Initiative and Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health—University of Maryland

3. Food Insecurity Among College Students

Food insecurity is increasingly observed among college students, with significant potential for adverse effects on both physical and mental health. In Fall of 2014 UMD opened its first Campus Food Pantry. In 2015, I led the development and implementation of first ever food insecurity survey of UMD undergraduates to provide critical baseline data. Our surveyed revealed that 15% of students were food insecure and additional 16% were at risk for food insecurity.  Students who were African-American other race/ethnicity, receiving multiple forms of financial aid, or experience housing problems were more likely to be food insecure. Results from our survey have inspired the UMD Counseling Center to conduct a larger study and UMD Dining Services, in partnership with the Health Center, to expand services provided by the Campus Pantry. But with our collective efforts more could be done to support student students struggling to meet basic needs.

Principal Investigator        
Payne-Sturges DC, Tjaden A, Caldeira KM, Vincent KB and Arria AM. (2017) Prevalence and Health-related Correlates of Food Insecurity among College Students and Implications for Academic Institutions. American Journal of Health Promotion.  [Epub ahead of print]PMID: 28699401
Bruening M, Argo K, Payne-Sturges D, Laska MN. The struggle is real: a systematic review of what is known about food insecurity on post-secondary campuses and what is being done about it.(2017) Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 28754200
Media Coverage
Additional Resources
California State University System launched a Basic Needs Initiative to address barriers to student success, including food and housing insecurity.
University of California Berkeley also has launched a Basic Needs Security initiative.
California consistently has one of the lowest enrollment rates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—also known as CalFresh at the state level. This issue of low participation extends to college campuses, where food insecurity levels are disproportionately high. In light of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, the newest episode of Just Food explores recent measures taken by UC Berkeley and the CA government to make CalFresh and other food security resources more accessible to students. Listen to the episode here.
Food insecurity among college students is gaining national attention with the introduction of H.R.3875 - College Student Hunger Act of 2017. This bill would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to expand the eligibility of students to participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program.

College Park, MD -- Farhan Ahmed, 20, a sophomore majoring in computer science, lives off campus and started coming in the past two months to the University of Maryland Campus Pantry, where he can pick out ten food items per visit. A reusable tote bag is provided to carry the food. The Campus Pantry offers food staples to students, faculty and staff in need. March 12, 2016
(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

4. Fulbright Specialist: Cumulative Risks and Environmental Justice in Germany

As a Fulbright Scholar I conducted research on cumulative environmental health impacts, developed course material and learning scenarios on cumulative risks and impacts for the Department of Community Health’s “DiPS-Lab” participatory place analysis for the undergraduate course “Gesundheit und Sozialraum” (translated as “Health and Social Environment”), and engaged with German policy makers for a comparative analysis of cumulative risk policies.

Principal Investigator
Project Sponsors
Media Coverage

Darya Dokshina: Master's student, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health

Rebecca Patterson: Master's student, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health

Helen Mittmann: Master's student, Department of Anthropology

Bradley NewkirkMaster's student, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health

Kathryn HirabayashiMaster's student, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Natalie Crnosija: Doctoral student, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health