Report calls for hog farm moratorium in Iowa

A new report on the rapid expansion of hog farms in Iowa calls for a moratorium on new barns and concludes that the state’s regulatory system is failing to protect the environment and public health for the sake of profit of the politically powerful livestock industry.

“A tipping point has been reached. Rural Iowans have every reason to be concerned,” said the report released by retired University of Iowa professors James Merchant and David Osterberg.

University of Iowa names Michael Pentella as interim SHL director

Michael PentellaMichael Pentella, a clinical professor of epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health and former associate director of the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL), has been named the SHL interim director, the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Economic Development (OVPRED) announced in December.

Effective on Dec. 18, Pentella’s part-time appointment temporarily fills the role of director previously held by Christopher Atchison whose retirement was effective Jan. 5.  Atchison was granted status as Director Emeritus of the State Hygienic Laboratory as well as Clinical Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

Pentella is the former director of the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Massachusetts. Prior to that, he served as associate director of infectious disease for SHL, where he was responsible for bacteriology, virology, serology, parasitology and mycology, and was actively involved with bioterrorism preparedness, antimicrobial resistance and pandemic influenza planning.

The interim director’s career spans more than 40 years in clinical microbiology and public health laboratory science. In 2016, SHL named Pentella the seventh recipient of its William J. Hausler Career Achievement Award, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement and professional activities that extend beyond the laboratory, and greatly impact the field of public health.

That same year, Pentella received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of South Florida College of Public Health where he earned a Ph.D. in infectious disease. He received a Master of Science degree in clinical microbiology from Thomas Jefferson University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology for the Ohio State University.

Pentella is board certified as a Diplomat in Medical Microbiology through the American Society for Microbiology (D(ABMM)). His national appointments include the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) Infectious Disease Committee, the APHL Biosafety and Biosecurity Committee, and the American Society for Microbiology Lab Practices Committee.

The OVPRED is leading a search committee for a permanent director of the State Hygienic Laboratory.

About the State Hygienic Laboratory
The State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa is the Iowa’s environmental and public health laboratory, serving all 99 counties by testing for and tracking infectious diseases and illnesses; performing newborn and maternal screening; and monitoring the air, water and soil for environmental contaminants. Each year, the Hygienic Laboratory conducts more than 500,000 public health tests for Iowans and an estimated 250,000 additional tests for clients outside of the state.

The State Hygienic Laboratory is based in Coralville, Iowa on the University of Iowa Research Park Campus with additional laboratories in Ankeny and Milford.  More information about SHL is available on the State Hygienic Laboratory website.

Nominations for 2018 Outstanding Alumni Awards due Feb. 28

The University of Iowa College of Public Health is pleased to announce that it is accepting nominations for the 2018 College of Public Health Outstanding Alumni Awards.

This award program recognizes outstanding alumni in two categories: first, recent graduates who have completed College of Public Health programs within the past ten years and, second, other alumni for accomplishments throughout their careers. The CPH Outstanding Alumni Award selection committee will select recipients from an academic or research position in even numbered years, and individuals from a practice setting in odd numbered years. Therefore, for the 2018 award cycle, the college invites nominations for individuals from the academic or research (non-practice based) communities.

Download a nomination form

The criteria for awards to honor recent graduates are:

  • Have completed a formal College of Public Health educational program in the past ten years (2008 or later);
  • Have achieved important and promising accomplishments during that period and have exceptional promise for future success; and
  • Have demonstrated strong interest and commitment to the Mission, Vision, and Values of the College of Public Health.

The criteria for awards to honor other alumni are:

  • Have completed a formal educational program offered by the College of Public Health (including formal educational programs presently or previously offered by academic units in the College of Public Health);
  • Have made significant contributions in their discipline and field of practice throughout their career and attained widespread recognition and respect for their accomplishments; and
  • Have demonstrated strong interest and commitment to the mission, vision, and values of the College of Public Health.

Download a nomination form here or call 319-384-4277.

Email all nomination materials to or mail to:

Tara McKee, Alumni Relations Coordinator
University of Iowa College of Public Health
145 N. Riverside Drive
Iowa City, IA 52242

Forms must be emailed or postmarked no later than February 28, 2018.

Hear updates from the CPH Faculty Policy Fellows on Jan. 17

Hear updates from Mary Charlton, Kelli Ryckman, Cara Hamann, Brandi Janssen, and Paul Gilbert as they highlight their projects with the College of Public Health’s Policy Fellow Program, offered through the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP).

This Spotlight Series event will take place Wednesday, Jan. 17, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in C217 CPHB.

Policy Fellow Spotlight is Jan. 17, 2018

Registration open for the 2018 ASPPH Annual Meeting

2018 ASPPH Meeting logoRegistration for the 2018 ASPPH Annual Meeting is open. The meeting, to be held March 7-9 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va., features programming for academic public health leaders, faculty, staff, and students, current public health and global health concerns, and the future of academic public health.

The deadline to register is Friday, February 23, and the hotel reservation deadline is Friday, February 16.

For more information, visit:


Funding for Special Interest Projects available through UI PRC

The Prevention Research Centers program office at the CDC has released its list of 2018 Special Interest Projects (SIPS). It is published as RFA-DP-18-002. It is anticipated that up to 5 awards will be made and will start September 30, 2018. These funding opportunities are available only to the Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) in the U.S.  The PI role is not limited to PRC directors, but can be any investigator at that institution – so, anyone at the University of Iowa may apply and the funds are passed through the UI PRC.

This RFA will provide supplemental funding to Prevention Research Centers to design, test, and disseminate effective applied public health prevention research strategies to include behavioral interventions, environmental or system-wide solutions, and strategies that address major causes of disease and disability. Research strategies align with public health priorities such as the Healthy People 2020 topic areas: Epilepsy; Cancer; and Oral Health.

Please let Heidi Haines (, Center Coordinator of the UI PRC, know if  you are interested in applying for any of these SIPs, or you have any questions.

Letter of Intent:  Due January 22, 2018

Proposal Due date: March 1, 2018

Details vary across SIPS, so please read carefully.

UI analysis finds more children are diagnosed with autism than previously thought

The number of children in the United States diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may be significantly higher than previously thought, according to a new University of Iowa analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

A portrait of Assistant Professor Wei Bao of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Wei Bao

The analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that 2.4 percent of American children between the ages of 3 and 17—or 1 in 41—have been diagnosed with autism, higher than most earlier estimates of about 1.46 percent or 1 in 68 children. Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health and corresponding author of the analysis, says the higher number shows the need for officials to think about reallocating health care resources to care for significantly more people with autism.

“Previous thinking about autism is that it is very rare, but this study tells us that it is no longer something that is very rare,” says Bao. “This should cause us to reconsider what our future priorities in research, service, and policy should be regarding children who have autism spectrum disorder. Clearly, we need more people to care for children with autism.”

The UI analysis used nationally representative data from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey from 2014 to 2016, which collects data on a broad range of health topics through thousands of in-person household interviews each year. As part of the interview, CDC survey-takers ask respondents if the randomly sampled child living in the household has ever been diagnosed with autism.

Bao says the previous estimate of 1.46 percent was derived from the CDC’s Autism and Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM), which collects data from the health and special education records of 8-year-old children at 11 selected sites across the United States. The UI analysis was based on a nationally representative sample of children ages 3 to 17, and Bao cautions that these methodological differences in study design make direct comparisons between the two databases difficult.

The analysis also confirms earlier findings about gender and racial/ethnic disparity of autism in U.S. children, that it is much more frequent in boys (3.54 percent) than girls (1.22 percent), and less frequent in people of Hispanic origin (1.78 percent) than in non-Hispanic whites (2.71 percent) or non-Hispanic blacks (2.36 percent).

It found the highest prevalence of autism in Northeast states, at 3.05 percent. The Midwest was at 2.47 percent, the West at 2.24 percent, and the South at 2.21 percent. Bao speculates that rates are lower in the South and West because higher percentages of the population living in those states are Hispanic, a population that tends to have a lower prevalence of autism overall.

Bao says the limitation of the analysis is that the data is self-reported by the household respondent to the CDC survey-taker and is not subject to any third-party adjudication.

The analysis does not identify a cause for the increasing number of autism spectrum disorder cases. Bao says greater awareness among parents and health care providers might be the cause of some of the increase, but environmental and genetic factors likely are responsible for a large part of the gap. He points to previous studies—including one of his own—that show children are at greater risk of autism if their mothers have diabetes before or during pregnancy; since diabetes is often caused by obesity, the increase could be linked to the increasing weight of Americans.

“Autism is a highly complex disease caused by multiple genetic and environmental factors,” Bao says. “Maternal diabetes could be one of those factors, but it is not the only one. We need to find more about the underlying driving factors.”

The paper, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among US Children and Adolescents, 2014–2016,” was published in the January 2018 issue of JAMA. Its first author is Guifeng Xu, PhD candidate in the UI College of Public Health and graduate research assistant in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and is co-authored by Buyun Liu, postdoctoral researcher in the College of Public Health, and Lane Strathearn, professor of pediatrics in the Carver College of Medicine.

This story originally appeared in Iowa Now.

Additional Media Coverage


Iowa Public Radio

Los Angleles Times (also published in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Daily News)

U.S. News

CBS News

WTNH-TV, Hartford, Conn.


The Gazette


Researchers examine role of paid family leave in reducing nursing home use

elderly man with caneA new study from the University of Iowa and Syracuse University suggests that a more inclusive paid family leave (PFL) policy could be effective in reducing nursing home use among older adults.

Kanika Arora, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and Douglas Wolf, professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University, analyzed data collected in all 50 states between 1999 and 2008.

The authors estimate that across alternative state comparison groups, the passage of PFL consistently reduced nursing home occupancy in California by .5 to .7 percentage points among those aged 65 and older. This represents an 11 percent relative decline in nursing home utilization.

A portrait of Prof. Kanika Arora of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa college of Public Health.
Kanika Arora

According to Arora, this study is the first study to examine long-term care outcomes associated with a state-level policy on paid family leave and has demonstrated that the provision of this leave reduces nursing home use among older adults.

“While the current administration has proposed a federal paid family leave program, it is only focused on providing paid leave to families after the birth or adoption of a child,” Arora says. “The results of this study suggest that they should consider expanding the benefits of such a program to individuals with a seriously ill family member.”

The study will be published in the Winter 2018 edition of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. A preview version is available at