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Two School of Public Health faculty are among international experts chosen for special journal issue on aging

Issue features nine articles from thought leaders on current themes and solutions in aging and public health
Happy elderly people having fun hugging each other outdoors after exercise

Two faculty members from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health edited and contributed to a recent special issue of the journal Frontiers in Public Health in line with the United Nations Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030), which seeks to improve the quality of life for older people around the world.

Marcia G. Ory, PhD, Regents and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and faculty member with Texas A&M’s Center for Community Health and Aging, and Matthew Lee Smith, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior, oversaw the issue titled Experts’ Opinions on Aging and Public Health, published in January.

“Today, one in six Americans is 65 years old or older, but that was the case for only about one in 20 Americans a century ago,” Ory said. “Similar trends are seen around the world, and this underscores the tremendous need for research, programs and practices that focus on older populations.”

The special issue focuses on major themes in aging and public health research and highlights recent advances in how these issues are conceptualized, measured and addressed through intervention strategies. It also was the basis for an international webinar.

The issue features nine research papers by 67 authors from the United States, Australia, Canada, China, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Articles address what Ory and Smith consider the most important issues affecting healthy aging today: lifestyle and behavior, interventions, technology and innovations, built and social environments and workforce development for public health and aging. In addition, some articles touched on health equity.

Ory was lead author of “Health Equity Innovation in Precision Medicine: Current Challenges and Future Directions,” published in Frontiers in Public Health in February 2023. Co-authors were Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, DrPH, Kenneth S. Ramos, MD, PhD, and Rick Silva, PhD from Texas A&M Health, a colleague from the University of Houston, Omolola E. Adepoju, PhD, and former graduate student.

Their article summarized the one-day Health Equity Summit hosted by Texas A&M Health in November 2023. The summit focused on how groups—such as the older population—that typically participate in clinical trials and academic studies far less than others could be served through emerging technology and new practices, including precision medicine.

Precision medicine, which takes into account a patient’s unique genes and lifestyle, has transformed the way we prevent and treat disease in the past decade or so,” Ory said. “Unfortunately, however, this transformation has left out some of the people who would most benefit but who often cannot afford such treatment, cannot participate due to Medicaid complications or cannot travel to the places where this work is done. We see this as a major blind spot that must be addressed by a wide variety of health care practitioners and policymakers.”

Smith was lead author of “Social-  and Community-Level Strategies to Improve Social Connectedness among Older Adults,” published in Frontiers in Public Health in May 2023. “This article describes how fragmented systems and siloed communities can cause social isolation and loneliness among older adults and offers practical solutions to unify communities to promote social connection,” Smith said.

“We advocate for a systems approach and suggest nine tactics to strengthen connections among older adults,” Smith said. “These include raising awareness about social disconnectedness and making it a national priority, making community spaces such as libraries and parks more accessible, and doing more research about the effectiveness of programs and services to reduce social isolation and loneliness.”

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