Published: 07-09-2023 10:57 | Updated: 07-09-2023 18:52

Four new funds to researchers at GPH

Recently four of the researchers at the Department of Global Public Health received funds for different research projects, Kristi Sidney Annerstedt, Anna Ohlis, Ann Liljas, and Renee Gardner. We asked them a few questions to know more about the projects and what the funds will contribute to.

Kristi Sidney Annerstedt
Kristi Sidney Annerstedt Photo: Maja Rudolphson

Kristi Sidney

  • Funding: 4 million EURO from the European Union under the Horizon Europe program for 4 years.

  • Project: "Changemaker: Promoting co-designed sustainable health interventions with young changemakers for reduced risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in urban Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania"

The project aims to implement a sustainable health intervention program targeting adolescent obesity and related non-communicable diseases in three rapidly urbanizing cities in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Tanzania. The background highlights the increasing epidemic of adolescent obesity and the need for sustainable interventions in low- and middle-income countries. The strategy involves four evidence-based approaches, four evidence-based strategies, which will be adapted to context through a co-design process: 1) urban farming in schools with satellite farms and organic waste composting, 2) sustainable health modules for classrooms, 3) linking to healthcare workers through health talks using motivational interviewing techniques and 4) WHO Best Buys: Mass media campaign.

The evaluation includes cluster RCTs and cost-effectiveness analysis. The expected results aim to provide evidence for scaling a complex health intervention and reducing obesity prevalence. The project is led by a diverse interdisciplinary team from leading institutions.

The team consists of a multisectoral interdisciplinary team with experience in health sciences, social sciences, behavioral psychology, implementation science, economics and epidemiological methodologies, food science and nutrition, and planetary health agriculture sciences from leading African, European, and North American institutions. The team from KI includes Zoë Morris, Claudia Hanson, Helle Mölsted Alvesson, Sibylle Herzig Van Wees, Elin Larsson, Anna Kågesten, Anna Mia Ekström, Stefan Swartling Peterson.

“The prospect of working with adolescents to drive change through this new sustainable health multi-sectoral project excites me because it embodies the potential for revolutionary change through innovation and shared purpose. The opportunity to take part in a collaborative effort with the potential for long-lasting impact is something that resonates deeply with my personal and professional aspirations and values, making it an endeavor I am truly eager to drive and be a part of, said Sidney.”

This is a new collaboration/project and the funding will be used to coordinate the project, implement the intervention, and test the effectiveness and impact.

Anna Ohlis

Anna Ohlis

  • Funding: 3 720 000 SEK from FORTE

  • Project: "Scrutinizing the impact of social media use on mental health among Swedish youths, a longitudinal study of two birth cohorts

Mental health problems among youths are common and seemingly increasing. Social media has been assigned a possible causative role. However, scientific evidence is inconclusive. To gain a better understanding of the effect of social media on youths’ mental health, this project will explore the association in a longitudinal design, considering the type of social media platform, the user’s motive and activity, and the impact on everyday life and sleep.

This project aims to explore:

  • if different patterns of social media use predict the course of well-being and mental health problems among youths
  • if individual factors affect the impact of social media use on the individual’s mental health
  • if there is a bidirectional relationship between social media use and mental health

All participants in the ongoing study “Prevalence of emotional distress and mental disorders among teenagers in Sweden and their need for support” (PEDALS), a cross-sectional study with a representative sample of 6000 students aged 14-15 and aged 17-18, will be invited to participate in the longitudinal study. The longitudinal study implies that the participants will be followed up at one year and two years after the PEDALS assessment (baseline assessment). At each assessment, the participants will be asked about patterns of social media use, well-being, sleep, gender identity, sexual orientation, and mental distress. Mental disorders are assessed with a digital diagnostic interview where the responses are assessed by a clinician.

Exploring the relationship between social media use and mental health would inform youths on beneficial social media use, offer guidance to parents and teachers, and recommendations to developers of social media platforms on favorable features. 

Ann Lijas

Ann Liljas

  • Funding: 3 766 000 from AFA

  • Project: "In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic: How to tackle moral stress among healthcare professionals at emergency departments"

Moral distress refers to the feelings of unease that arise in situations when someone knows the morally correct action to take but is constrained from taking this action. Previous studies have shown associations between moral distress and mental ill-health, decreased job satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and job burnout. During the Covid-19 pandemic, moral distress became a global phenomenon in the care sector, yet awareness about it remains poor. The overarching purpose of the project is to increase the knowledge and awareness of moral distress through co-production with healthcare professionals at two emergency departments in Region Stockholm.

” The funding from AFA will be used for a doctoral project that will be led by the new PhD student Clara Brune, said Ann”

Renee Gardner

Renee Gardner

  • Funding: 1 200 000 SEK from Hjärnfonden

  • Project: "Maternal iron deficiency and children’s risk for neurodevelopmental disorders"

Previous studies have shown that mothers who experience anemia during pregnancy have a higher risk of having children affected by neurodevelopmental disorders. Anemia can be caused by several different factors but is very often caused by iron deficiency, especially in pregnant women. Because both neurodevelopmental disorders and anemia can have complex causes, we do not yet understand if maternal iron deficiency is the true cause of some cases of neurodevelopmental disorders, and therefore, we do not yet understand how to best help pregnant women. While providing some pregnant women with iron supplements might help prevent anemia and potentially help to prevent some neurodevelopmental disorders, the child’s developing brain requires just the right amount of iron—not too much, and not too little–as too much iron is toxic.

In Sweden, there is a unique opportunity to study how the early life environment can influence the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders through access to the extensive information available in national and regional register data, including a mother’s medical history prior to and throughout pregnancy. In addition, blood samples from the newborn period (the so-called “PKU samples”) have been stored for decades in Sweden. During early pregnancy, most women are tested for various infectious diseases. The remaining material from the tests is saved in biobanks. We have collected these samples from the individuals included in the study. Via a series of different laboratory analyses, we will create a detailed picture of the mother's and the newborn baby's iron status. We will compare the results of these analyses for the individuals who were later diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia to unaffected individuals in the general population and with matched siblings who lack these diagnoses. In the end, the goal is to investigate whether the iron deficiency itself may be the cause of different neurodevelopmental outcomes or whether the connections are due to heredity or other factors, in order to best develop strategies for counseling regarding iron supplementation for pregnant women.

“This grant will primarily fund the laboratory analysis of the different blood samples that we have already collected. Over the next two years, I will spend more time in the lab to carry out the analysis that is funded by this grant, said Renee”