University of Minnesota Alumni Association



"The Value of Water", "Smoking in Rural America", "Insights into Lung Distress"

Photo courtesy of Nikola Stojadinovic / iStock

Smoking in Rural America

Smoking rates are declining in the United States. But behind that optimistic fact lies a stubborn challenge: Smoking among rural adults stood at 19.2 percent in 2020, compared to 14.4 percent for their urban counterparts.

A new study from the School of Public Health (SPH) addresses this disparity by examining the factors associated with attempts to quit smoking among rural adults. Using survey data gathered from rural, adult, daily smokers, SPH researchers evaluated the number of quit attempts they undertook in the previous year, as well as the factors that promoted or impeded attempts to quit smoking.

They found that 25.6 percent of rural residents —1 in 4— tried to quit smoking in the past year. Factors associated with greater odds of attempting to quit smoking included: having a level of education beyond high school; disapproval of smoking by family or friends; the use of e-cigarettes; being advised to quit by a doctor; and having a negative self-perception of one’s physical or mental health.

“Along with higher smoking rates and fewer attempts to quit smoking, rural communities face limited access to programs, medication, and health care professionals as tools to help them quit smoking,” says Lorna Bittencourt, a doctoral student at SPH and lead author. “We found negative perceptions of smoking and disapproval of the habit among friends and family are leading factors associated with attempts to quit smoking. Given that, health communications campaigns and policies that emphasize family support for quit attempts should be a key priority in rural areas.”

This study was originally published in the December 12, 2023, issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The Value of Water

New research from the U of M’s Center for Changing Landscapes and Water Resources shows that how we value water depends on many factors, including our sociocultural identity. 

“Minnesotans don’t all experience water in the same ways—we have different water relationships depending on where we live, our cultural world views, our life experiences and the hardships we face,” says lead author Mae Davenport, a professor in the Department of Forest Resources and director of the Center. “Unfortunately, because of historical and institutional injustices ... culturally diverse and non-dominant racialized groups have been underrepresented in positions of power, and underserved by decisions that affect human-water relationships.”

Using surveys, researchers examined how variables such as gender, race, ethnicity, and home ownership affect water priorities. They found that while safe drinking water was the most important water value, respondents identifying as Asian, American Indian, Black, Hispanic or Latino, Middle Eastern or North African, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander placed higher importance than white-identifying respondents on using water for cultural and religious practices; for vegetable gardens; and for recreation and fishing. The findings suggest that a more holistic approach to water science, policy, and management is needed. “This research will support more inclusive and community-centered water dialogue, science, policy development, and investments for all Minnesotans,” says Davenport.

This research was originally published in the November 30, 2023, edition of Society & Natural Resources.

Insights into Lung Distress

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung injury that allows fluid to leak into the lungs. There is no known cure for the condition, which can follow respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19 and pneumonia. As many as two-thirds of patients who passed away from Covid had ARDS. Unfortunately, there is no clear reason why specific people with a severe respiratory illness develop the disease. But that could change thanks to U of M researchers, who may have discovered a mechanical explanation for lung instability in cases of acute ARDS. In the study, researchers found that adults suffering from ARDS had elevated levels of a lysolipid, which is a byproduct of the immune response to viruses and bacteria. Increased concentration of lysolipids eliminates the surfactant composed of fats and proteins generated in the lungs. The result is uneven lung inflation and respiratory distress.

Previous research of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome in premature infants found it could be treated by introducing replacement lung surfactant, but that was not the case in adults. The amount of lysolipid determines the outcome of the surfactant in the lungs, not the breakdown of the existing lung surfactant.

Researchers hope to translate these ideas into a clinical environment to see if they can manipulate specific molecules to drop the concentration to a threshold with potential to reverse symptoms of ARDS.

From the December 12, 2023, issue of PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Thanks to the team at University Public Relations for their help with these briefs.

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