October 2020: New global temperature data will inform study of climate impacts on health, agriculture

A seemingly small one-to-two degree change in the global climate can dramatically alter weather-related hazards. Given that such a small change can result in such big impacts, it is important to have the most accurate information possible when studying the impact of climate change. This can be especially challenging in data-sparse areas like Africa, where some of the most dangerous hazards are expected to emerge.

A new data set published in the journal Scientific Data provides high-resolution, daily temperatures from around the globe that could prove valuable in studying human health impacts from heat waves, risks to agriculture, droughts, potential crop failures, and food insecurity. 

Data scientists Andrew Verdin and Kathryn Grace of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota worked with colleagues at the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California Santa Barbara to produce and validate the data set.

“It’s important to have this high-resolution because of the wide-ranging impacts – to health, agriculture, infrastructure. People experiencing heat waves, crop failures, droughts – that’s all local,” said Verdin, the lead author.

By combining weather station data, remotely sensed infrared data and the weather simulation models, this new data set provides daily estimates of 2-meter maximum and minimum air temperatures for 1983-2016. Named CHIRTS-daily, this data provides high levels of accuracy, even in areas where on-site weather data collection is sparse. Current efforts are focused on updating the data set in near real time. 

“We know that the next 20 years are going to bring more extreme heat waves that will put millions or even billions of people in harm’s way. CHIRTS-daily will help us monitor, understand, and mitigate these rapidly emerging climate hazards”, said Chris Funk, director of the Climate Hazards Center.

Additionally, the people who are most vulnerable are often located in areas where publicly available weather station data are deteriorating or unreliable. Areas with rapidly expanding populations and exposures (e.g. Africa, Central America, and parts of Asia) can’t rely on weather observations. By combining different sources of weather information, each contributes to provide detail and context for a more accurate, global temperature dataset. 

“We’re really excited about the possibilities for fine-scale, community-focused climate-health data analyses that this dataset can support. We’re excited to see researchers use it,” said co-author Kathryn Grace. 

September 2020: Structural Racism More Deadly than COVID

Recent research by MPC Faculty Member Elizabeth Wrigley-Field demonstrates that “US racial inequality may be as deadly as COVID-19.” In an article published in the September 8 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Wrigley-Field uses historical data to estimate that, for white mortality in 2020 to rise to the best mortality ever recorded among Blacks, the COVID pandemic would need to produce 400,000 excess white deaths. Based on her findings, Wrigley-Field argues, “[I]f Black disadvantage operates every year on the scale of Whites’ experience of COVID-19, then so too should the tools we fight to deploy it.”

For more information, read the full open access article in PNAS, and check out media coverage by, Slate, and New York Times.

August 2020: New Grants Announced

IPUMS Health Surveys 

MPC Members Lynn Blewett (Professor, Health Policy & Management)  and Julia Drew (Research Scientist, IPUMS) have received funding from The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to support the IPUMS Health Surveys project for another five years. Highlights of the new grant include 1) the expansion of IPUMS MEPS to include the 1996-2023 medical conditions and health care event files; 2) a new variable construction system on the IPUMS MEPS website to facilitate the creation of downloadable, user-defined variables based on the condition and event data; and 3) two three-day, in-person MEPS training workshops geared towards early-career scholars. Congratulations to the Health Surveys team! 



MPC Members Elizabeth Heger Boyle (Professor, Sociology), Miriam King (Research Scientist, IPUMS), and Matthew Sobek (Research Scientist, IPUMS) have received a new grant from The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for a five-year project to harmonize and disseminate the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) fielded by UNICEF. Focused on the health and well-being of women and children, more than 300 MICS surveys have been conducted in over 100 countries since the late 1990s. Despite its remarkable potential for comparative research, MICS has been underutilized due to data inconsistencies between countries and over the six rounds of the survey. IPUMS MICS aims to rectify this situation! 


Big Microdata Network

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded the Big Microdata Network to support the emerging interdisciplinary community of scientists using vast new collections of census data, including IPUMS full count data. The goals of the Big Microdata Network are to connect existing census data researchers and to expand and diversify the user community, thereby increasing access to these data and facilitating new research. We’ll eventually be hosting in-person conferences in Minneapolis, which should be a great way for the IPUMS team to connect with full count data users. MPC Member Catherine Fitch (Associate Director, ISRDI) will serve as project PI along with Co-PIs Steve Ruggles (Director, ISRDI) and Rob Warren (Director, MPC) and a steering committee of IPUMS users from across the world. 


June 2020: New funding increases access to critical reproductive health data

Ensuring reproductive health in the world’s poorest countries requires knowing which women lack access to health resources and why. To address these urgent questions, the Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation (ISRDI) at the University of Minnesota has created IPUMS PMA, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. IPUMS PMA provides reliable, high quality, and comprehensible data on family planning topics to researchers and policymakers. Now a new $2 million grant from the foundation not only extends IPUMS PMA to include longitudinal data, but also supports a new Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA) Data Analysis Hub, where ISRDI’s unique strengths in spatial and comparative expertise will be devoted to improving women’s health through the use of IPUMS PMA data.

The brand-new PMA Data Analysis Hub will make the data accessible to all, from resource-strapped students to the most sophisticated data scientists. Analysts at the Data Analysis Hub will provide models of research that take full advantage of the possibilities of the IPUMS PMA data. They will share their expertise through free instructional resources, information, and user support. For expert users, the project will provide new coding tools (API) and other resources for data applications. Another goal of the IPUMS PMA Data Analysis hub is to ensure the data are accessible and user friendly, particularly for researchers residing in the African and Asian countries participating in PMA, where policy makers have identified a pressing need to improve the state of reproductive health.

“IPUMS PMA and the new PMA Data Analysis Hub tools will unlock the potential for numerous new and independent research projects to improve women’s health,” says Professor Elizabeth Heger Boyle, the Principal Investigator on the project.

Associate Professor Kathryn Grace, who will oversee ISRDI research at the PMA Data Analysis Hub adds, “The PMA Data Analysis Hub is designed to support creative and rigorous research through diverse and interdisciplinary approaches to questions of reproductive health.  Building on, and expanding the existing strengths found in ISRDI, the Hub will generate insightful and accessible research and training materials employing leading edge data from IPUMS PMA.” 

All of this work is being done in conjunction with our collaborators at PMA, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

IPUMS and ISRDI provide the world’s largest accessible database of census and survey data. By using machine learning and expert data scientists, we are making data accessible and usable for all.

May 2020: Later school start times may reduce sleep deficits for highschool students

NICHD Press Office - Full article

April 29, 2020

High school students who began classes roughly an hour later than students at neighboring schools slept an average of 43 minutes more per night, according to a study funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study authors wrote that the later morning start times accommodated the teens’ natural sleep period, which begins about two hours later than that of younger children. Teens at the late-starting schools also slept less on weekend nights than their counterparts at early schools, suggesting that they had less need to compensate for missed sleep on school nights.

The study was led by MPC Member Rachel Widome, associate professor of Epidemiology and Community Health, and is part of a collaboration with former MPC Student Member Aaron Berger. The article is now available online at JAMA Pediatrics.

April 2020: MPC Funding for COVID-19 Rapid Response Projects

As part of the University of Minnesota Rapid Response to COVID-19, MPC is matching funding for members who are taking on COVID-19 research. We wish we had the capacity to fund every request – but we are excited to announce the first grants approved.

MPC Member: Ryan Demmer

Asymptomatic COVID-19 surveillance and transmission among the healthcare workforce

The goal of this proposal is to set up a pilot and feasibility study necessary to establish surveillance of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) carriage among healthcare workers in Minnesota. Early evidence suggests that ~50% of transmission occurs from asymptomatic individuals.1-4 Understanding this dynamic among healthcare workers is extremely important for informing infection models to support decision making in response to the pandemic. However, to date, most states have limited testing capacity and are focusing only on high risk symptomatic individuals and therefore ignores asymptomatic carriers. Importantly, our healthcare workforce will become essential to an effective pandemic response but asymptomatic carriage among individuals who will be in contact with many uninfected patients and family members creates a significant vulnerability for propagation of COVID-19 even in the face of significant social distancing. To address this issue, in collaboration with the Knight Lab at the University of California San Diego, we propose to conduct sentinel surveillance to inform asymptomatic infection prevalence over time among healthcare workers and subsequent transmission dynamics. Specifically, we will establish an infrastructure to test 500 healthcare workers over the course of one month; scale up will follow pending additional funding.

MPC Member: Ruby Nguyen

Optimal Procedures for Providing Effective Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Minnesota During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The overall aim of this study is to determine the optimal procedures for providing effective domestic violence services in Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic. This goal will be achieved with 3 sub-aims: 1) Conduct a needs assessment of the domestic violence service agencies to address issues identified in the previous Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) needs assessment of only agencies servicing sexual exploitation/trafficking (conducted among 27 grantees of the MDH Safe Harbor program); 2) Collect statewide data on the temporal changes in the number and types of requests for assistance, including the incidence of gender-violence; and 3) Develop recommendations on optimal procedures to provide effective services for the remainder of the pandemic, and immediately afterward with the depletion of current resources. This study will inform agencies throughout the state, and provide legislators data and recommendations for future funding of these essential services.

MPC Member: Susan Marshall Mason

Rapid Deployment of School-based Mental Health Providers During the COVID-19 Crisis

School-based mental health providers (SBMHPs), including social workers, psychologists, and counselors, are an untapped resource for supporting families during this time of school closures and distance learning.

Led by Susan M. Mason, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology and Community Health, this study aims to establish the acceptability and preliminary efficacy of two brief SBMHP-provided interventions that could be widely disseminated and quickly deployed by schools to improve family wellbeing.