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The Lerner Center For Public Health Promotion

Our Work

The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion is committed to the development, evaluation, and dissemination of innovative and effective health promotion interventions that address key health issues, as well as health promotion and advocacy training activities for faculty and students.

2019-2020 Research Pilot Grant Program recipients include:

2019-2020 Community Scholar Grant Program recipients include:

Culturally Appropriate Youth Sleep Intervention Program Based on the DeStress Monday Strategies

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common and potentially modifiable health risks for children and adolescents. Sleep loss has been associated with a wide range of health consequences for adolescents, including an increased risk of mood disorders, poorer academic performance, obesity, substance abuse, and motor vehicle accidents. The purpose of this research is to provide formative data to better understand the role of stress contributing to sleep deficiencies among African American adolescents and to develop a home-based intervention led by youth leaders to improve sleep, incorporating DeStress Monday stress reduction techniques. The study will be one of the first obesity prevention interventions to seek to improve sleep duration and quality among youth in the US by teaching techniques to manage stress. 

GittelsohnJoel Gittelsohn, PhD, Professor, Department of International Health

Dr. Joel Gittelsohn is a professor in the Center for Human Nutrition and the Global Obesity Prevention Center. Dr. Gittelsohn has conducted a series of intervention trials to improve the Baltimore City food environment, working with corner stores, supermarkets, carryouts, wholesalers, recreation centers, food pantries and churches. With more than 250 publications, He has led multiple food source-centered intervention trials aimed at improving the food environment and providing education needed to support healthy food choices and reduce obesity and diabetes in Native communities, Baltimore City and Pacific Islander communities. Dr. Gittelsohn developed a multi-institutional program for diabetes prevention in seven First Nation communities in schools and food stores. It was extended to 11 American Indian communities and includes worksites, social media and policy components. These programs have shown success in increasing knowledge, healthy food purchasing and consumption, reducing obesity and improving stocking and sales.

Mind Your Meds Monday: Formative Work to Develop an Effective Communications Campaign 

The current opioid epidemic is exacerbated by a persistent problem: most Americans do not safely store and dispose of their prescription pain medications. This research study will include a series of formative activities that will ultimately inform the development of a new Monday campaign, tentatively titled, Mind Your Meds Monday. The study team will complete a literature review and environmental scan of poison prevention and safe storage campaigns, conduct key informant interviews with parents of children harmed by intentional or unintentional misuse of prescription pain medications, develop draft campaign themes and messages from these interviews, and test them via online focus groups with parents/caretakers of children and adolescents to critique the themes and messages. The result will be a set of data-driven and key stakeholder-informed messages ready for testing through a communications campaign. 

McDonaldEileen McDonald, MS, Senior Scientist, Department of Health, Behavior and Society

Eileen McDonald is a senior scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School, where she directs the master’s degree program in Health Education and Health Communication. She is also a core faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and serves as its  associate director for translation. Her injury research focuses on the application of innovative health education methods, health communication technology, and other clinical- and community-based interventions aimed at reducing pediatric injuries. Ms. McDonald holds a bachelor’s degree in health education and a master’s degree in health administration.

CEASE with Mondays

This project aims to investigate the impact of integrating the Monday concept through the Quit and Stay Quit Monday campaign into the existing CEASE (Communities Engaged and Advocating for a Smoke-free Environment) program curriculum. Project team members hypothesize that this integration will result in improved outcomes such as quit status, number of quit attempts, reduced carbon monoxide levels, improved program retention and satisfaction, and/or increased self-efficacy for quitting smoking.

ApataJummai Apata, MBBS, DrPH, CEASE Community Action Board Member

Jummai Apata, MBBS, DrPH is a public health researcher and currently a research associate with the ASCEND (A Student-Centered, Entrepreneurship Development) Center for Biomedical Research at Morgan State University. She is also a Community Action Board member of CEASE (Communities Engaged and Advocating for a Smoke-free Environment) in Baltimore. CEASE is a partnership between the Prevention Science Research Center of Morgan State University, other academic institutions, and several community organizations. By utilizing a community-based participatory research approach, CEASE has provided smoking cessation services to underserved and vulnerable persons in Baltimore for over a decade. 

CohenJoanna Cohen, PhD, Professor, Department of Health, Behavior and Society

Joanna Cohen, PhD, Bloomberg Professor of Disease Prevention and Director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at at the Bloomberg School, has been involved in tobacco policy research for 25 years. Trained in epidemiology and health policy, her research focuses on factors that affect the adoption and implementation of public health policies and on evaluating the beneficial effects and the unintended consequences of such policies. 


Policy Approaches to Healthier Food Banking

This project aims to improve access to healthier foods at food banks by: identifying existing federal and state policies that support or hamper healthy food bank donations; developing a model donation policy for grocery stores; and developing recommendations regarding amendments to existing policies or new policies that could be adopted to better support healthy food bank donations.

Joelle Johnson, Senior Policy Associate, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Joelle Johnson is a Senior Policy Associate at CSPI and works on policy and advocacy efforts that support healthy eating with a specific focus on the retail environment. Prior to joining CSPI she was a program manager for the Food Literacy Project, a farm-based food system education organization in Louisville, KY, and a local food procurement coordinator for DC Central Kitchen. Joelle is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health where she earned her Master in Public Health with a concentration in food and nutrition. 

Sara benjamin neelonSara Benjamin-Neelon, PhD, JD, MPH, RD, Associate Professor, Department of Health, Behavior and Society

Sara Benjamin Neelon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society and the Director of the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion. She is also the inaugural Helaine and Sidney Lerner Professor in Public Health Promotion. As a public health researcher, her work focuses on policy and environmental approaches to chronic disease prevention in children and families. She completed her PhD at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, her JD at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Her research focuses on policy and environmental approaches to obesity prevention in vulnerable populations.

Knit to Quit & Stay Quit at Baltimore City Treatment Programs 

Tobacco exposure remains a major public health concern in Baltimore City, particularly among substance-using populations. This project aims to reduce tobacco use and exposure among women of reproductive age in behavioral health treatment and recovery settings by developing and testing innovative, action-oriented tools to promote health behavior change and improve the built environment surrounding these sites. Knit to Quit is an innovative project designed by B’more for Health Babies and the Baltimore City Health Department to support effective smoking-cessation strategies for clients and staff at a local substance use disorder treatment program. The intervention team will infuse Quit and Stay Quit Monday messaging and other evidence-based behavior change techniques into Knit to Quit, further refine and implement the model, and evaluate its effectiveness in improving participants’ knowledge, self-efficacy, and motivation to quit, as well as in fostering greater social support for quitting, reducing stress, and curbing tobacco use. This evaluation will contribute to evidence on the effectiveness of the Quit and Stay Quit Monday campaign with this population. 

KirschnerJennifer Kirschner, MSPH, CHES, Program Director, Preventing Substance-Exposed Pregnancies, Baltimore City Health Department

Jennifer H. Kirschner, MSPH, CHES, directs perinatal and postpartum behavioral health initiatives for the Baltimore City Health Department’s Bureau of Maternal & Child Health. A 2012 graduate of the Bloomberg School, she previously served as the inaugural executive director of Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition, now the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, and worked on opioid overdose prevention and response efforts with Behavioral Health System Baltimore. She is passionate about promoting discrimination-free health care systems and environments that enable individuals and communities to thrive. 

WestAllison West, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health

Allison West, PhD, MSW, is an assistant professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School. She conducts evaluative research focused on dual-generation strategies to promote well-being and physical and mental health, and well-being among pregnant women and families with young children facing multiple and complex adversities such as poverty, trauma, addiction, and poor mental health. Dr. West has been involved in several studies to understand and improve behavioral health services for new mothers with substance use issues and to support parenting in the context of recovery. She has a particular interest in multidisciplinary, cross-sector approaches to reduce disparities and improve health outcomes.

The Food Project

The Food Project serves youth aged 8-21 and their families in Southwest Baltimore in a collaboration of the business, nonprofit, government, and education sectors to build youth skills in cooking, nutrition, restaurant skills, urban farming, public health science, and active mentorship. This project seeks to conduct formative and summative evaluation of The Food Project to improve program effectiveness and provide transferrable insights that can be applied in other settings.

SuazoMichelle Suazo, Chief Executive Officer, U Empower of Maryland

Michelle Suazo is co-founder of U Empower of Maryland, a nonprofit focused on strengthening communities by building relationships and bridging resources to people and organizations. She is the executive director of the flagship program, The Food Project, which brings cooking, farming, restaurant skills, job opportunities, sustainable food sources, mentorship, and hope to the youth of Southwest Baltimore. Ms. Suazo also developed, a logistical food rescue solution that connects food distributors with excess food to local nonprofits in need of food. She is a designer by trade, graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in Visual Communication. She has run a creative firm, IndigoPark, for the past 21 years focusing on branding and information architecture. 

MartinNina Martin, PhD, Assistant Scientist, Department of International Health

Nina M. Martin, PhD, met Community Scholar Michelle Suazo two years ago through a shared interest to empower the youth of Baltimore with practical life skills. Through her nonprofit organization, Public Health United (PHU), Dr. Martin started teaching after-school science classes with PHU director of Youth Outreach Jessica Raisanen at The Food Project. Dr. Martin is an expert on the science of science engagement and an assistant scientist in the Division of Health Systems in the Bloomberg School's Department of International Health. She received a PhD from the School in 2017 in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. She also serves as program officer of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health and as director of SCIBAR (Support for Creative Integrated Basic and Applied Research), an initiative of the School's Strategic Plan. 

The Impact of Waivers on Summer Meal Participation in Maryland

This project aims to investigate changes of the United States Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program. Project team members will evaluate changes in Maryland summer meal participation rates before and after the waivers were rescinded, explore sponsors’ decision-making process to apply for 2019 waivers, and investigate the effects of waiver regulations on the experiences among a diverse group of Maryland summer meal sponsors.

The Impact of COVID-19 on School Meal Participation in Maryland

This project aims to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on Maryland Summer Food Service Programs. Project team members will investigate how USDA COVID019 waiver regulations changes impact Maryland meal participation rates, how school closures impact the experience of meal program sponsors, and how many meals are distributed throughout Maryland.

WilsonMichael J. Wilson, Director, Maryland Hunger Solutions

Michael J. Wilson joined Maryland Hunger Solutions as director in July 2013, where he is helping to lead Maryland’s premier hunger advocacy, education, and outreach organization as it works to end hunger and improve the nutrition, health, economic security, and well-being of low-income families in Maryland. For more than three decades, Michael has been a leading advocate for economic and social justice as a legislative and press assistant for the late U.S. Representative Charles Hayes (IL), in numerous positions at the U.S. Department of Labor, culminating as chief of staff in the Employment Standards Administration where he coordinated legislative, regulatory, communications, and policy development. He also served as an international officer and director at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union where he headed the legislative and political department and led the union’s efforts in food policy and worker advocacy. Michael has a BA in communications arts and sciences from Michigan State University.

GrossSusan Gross, PhD, Assistant Scientist, Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health

Susan Gross, PhD, is an assistant scientist and nutritionist in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School and a high-risk nutritionist in the Johns Hopkins WIC Program. She is a researcher in maternal and child nutrition with over 20 years experience in the evaluation of supplemental nutrition programs. Her research focuses on the impact of social and environmental factors on nutrition outcomes among at-risk populations.


Resource Library

Access our Library of resources for health departments, community organizations and other public health professionals.