Jul. 22 2015

Gina Wingood Leads on Health Promotion at Lerner Summit and Beyond

University Collaborators Align Public Health and Marketing

Some noteworthy “firsts, bests and onlys” collided at the Mailman School on Monday, July 20, as the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion hosted the first Lerner Summit. Public health visionary and Mailman School Board member Sid Lerner joined representatives of the three academic centers he created at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Syracuse, along with senior staff from the Mondays Campaigns, Lerner’s creative agency dedicated to healthy behavior and chronic disease prevention.

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Gina Wingood

Entering her second week at Columbia, Gina Wingood, founding director of Columbia’s Lerner Center and a professor of Sociomedical Sciences, was first to lead a national meeting of the Lerner Center universities, cognizant of all three Centers’ promising futures.

“By cross-fertilizing marketing insight and public health fact, Sid’s vision for the Lerner Centers is helping us take the next giant leap in public health promotion,” said Wingood. “Given the breadth of research unfolding in key areas like nutrition, tobacco control, and obesity prevention, this opportunity could not be more timely.”

Collectively and as individual research-based institutions, the Lerner Centers share the goal of translating public health evidence into popular calls-to-action through research, education, and service. The Centers used this inaugural meeting to become familiar with each other’s programming and to consider projects that might emanate from a three-way collaboration. In remarks about their respective activities, David Holtgrave, interim director of the Johns Hopkins Lerner Center, and Tom Dennison, director of the Syracuse Lerner Center, reported on programs that optimize Mondays Campaigns’ Meatless Monday collateral and other Mondays endeavors, all designed to catalyze individual decision-making for better health.

To describe Columbia’s Lerner Center, Wingood was joined by Grace Lee, MPH ’14, deputy director, who has been on board since the Center’s creation last year. Wingood and Lee reviewed a year of activity, including James Colgrove and Rachel Shelton’s evaluation of public comments on federal menu-labeling regulations, two pilot innovation grants promoting interdisciplinary collaboration across Columbia, and a media training given by the Union of Concerned Scientists for Mailman School junior faculty.

For the delegation of Columbia faculty, staff, and students, the Summit served as welcome party of sorts for Wingood, even as the guest of honor gamely led the proceedings. A distinguished researcher in public health promotion and HIV prevention, Wingood brings decades of expertise designing and evaluating interventions to reduce health disparities in HIV, particularly among African-American women, whose rate of new HIV infections is 20 times that of white women. 

In her opening greeting, Mailman School Dean Linda P. Fried remarked that the Summit would help “make science matter.” Celebrating the School’s newest academic leader, Fried said, “We’re delighted to welcome someone with Gina Wingood’s breadth, passion, and intellectual industry. She is a scholar who understands how to raise awareness of critical health disparities, institutionalized racism, and other obstacles to population health. With her appointment, the Lerner Center is ready to assert itself as a leader in the critical work of health promotion, at Columbia and around the world.”

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Sid Lerner

Wingood has dedicated her career to developing gender- and culturally-appropriate HIV prevention interventions. Internationally recognized for research on social determinants of health, Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics in AIDS (SISTA) and five other HIV prevention interventions have been endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and implemented across the country. She has been invited twice as a speaker to the White House to share her experience with evidence-based, multi-level interventions. Prior to joining the Mailman School, Wingood was a professor of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education and the Agnes Moore Faculty in HIV/AIDS at Emory University.

Sid Lerner, and his wife, Helaine Lerner, a longtime advocate of sustainable agricultural practice, have campaigned together “to keep ‘the public’ in public health.” Though Sid Lerner characterized his efforts as “kibbitzing on the outside,” the Summit demonstrated how completely all three universities have embraced the idea of using marketing and public relations tools to distill academic ideas for a larger audience.