Dr. Wendy Slusser 00:03
Many of us ask this question to ourselves and others: is eating organic better for you? Well, today we’re going to unpack this question, and many more with Dr. Hilary Godwin as she discusses the importance of distinguishing between scientific evidence and personal value judgments. Hilary is trained in chemistry biophysics. She’s a leader at the intersection of environmental science and public health, and she’s supervised research programs in mechanistic toxicology and environmental health for more than 20 years. In addition to researching lead poisoning, her interests includes the impacts of climate change on public health, the efficacy of conservation programs and policies on indigenous populations, and community-based approaches to address health problems. At Northwestern University, she helped develop a program to help students, particularly those at risk who are interested in the sciences, transition from high school to college. And in 2006, Hilary joined the UCLA faculty and taught in the Environmental Health Sciences Department. And she’s now the Dean of University of Washington School of Public Health. Join us today, as we talked to Hilary about pesticides in food, climate change, and ways to become a more effective communicator. Welcome, Hilary. Hilary, I just want to say how I’m so grateful you’re here today. I know you came down from Washington for a dissertation for one of your last PhD students here at UCLA. Yeah. You know, I just wanted to say that remembering the first time I met you, which was when you were presenting to our pediatric residents around pesticides, and pesticides’ use on foods and how it might impact the health of those eating those foods, I was struck incredibly by the ability that you have to communicate a complex subject to a group of people who might not have a strong background in that area. Even though of course, pediatricians and pediatricians in training have had a lot of science, but maybe not as much chemistry and environmental science. I wanted to know where did you learn those skills?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 02:29
How did I hone those skills? So it’s something that has interested me for a long time, I remember as far back as when I was doing my dissertation, which was on fairly esoteric chemistry, about how different elements bond with each other, and create chemical bonds. And even then I remember really struggling with how do I communicate that to various different audiences in ways that would make sense to them. And I remember, my dad, who says scientists coming to my thesis defense, and afterward going to visit his parents, who are not scientists, and saying to my grandfather, you know, I don’t think I ever even realized that she works on chemical bonds. And my grandfather said, chemical bonds?! Which then he realized it was like one of those moments of, even a term that seemed as inherent and like, you know, so basic that like, if you’ve taken freshman chemistry, that you learn probably the first couple of weeks about chemical bonding, that for someone who’s not coming from a science background, that word doesn’t make any sense, right. And so the language that we use when we explain what we’re doing, the significance of it needs to be adapted, depending upon who we’re talking to. So for me, I always use my grandparents as the reference point. My parents are scientists, so they have a fairly technical background, but we say make sure you can explain it to your grandparents. So that’s one. Another part of where I think I learned that skill was in teaching freshman chemistry. So before I came to public health, I was a chemistry professor for 10 years and taught freshman chemistry for a long time. And it really taught me to listen to the kinds of questions that people ask and piece apart where they’re not understanding terminology or concepts. And in the particular case that you’re talking about, made me much more mindful about in talking to people, even people with really strong science backgrounds like the pediatric residents, it’s been a while since they’ve taken something like freshman chemistry and so some of those really basic concepts may not be super fresh. So ways to sort of remind them about the things that they learned in the past and contextualize problems that they’re interested in, referring back to some of that earlier learning. So, yeah, it’s one of those things where, you know, I always say no work is lost in terms of even if you shift into a new direction, you’re picking up skills all the time that that can help you in other fields.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 05:20
Your focus has been on toxicology and chemistry. And then now you’ve done, you did a pivot to environmental health and so how did that come about? Where did you get that epiphany where you wanted to do both?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 05:36
Yeah, so after working on very fundamental chemical concepts for my PhD, I realized that I wanted to do something that was a little bit more practical. And so I did some continuing work as a postdoctoral fellow in a medical school and started to shift more towards biochemistry. And that was sort of the initial shift. And when I started as a faculty member, I thought about, you know, given my background in very basic chemistry, and then this transition to the more biophysics and biochemistry, what were, how can I bring sort of that unique combination of skills to bear on a problem that was of importance, and talk to folks who were at the medical school where I was working as a postdoc about what were unsolved problems that they wish people were working on? And one that came up repeatedly was lead poisoning in children. And so that was sort of, my sort of first entree, I think, into public health, was really saying, how can I take the skills that I have coming from a more physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry background? How can I use those to help inform, trying to understand why lead is poisonous? So that was the research program that I started as an assistant professor and focused on for the first 10 years of my career, but then slowly started realizing that even if we knew a lot about why lead was poisonous, that we weren’t going to be able to prevent children from being lead poisoned. And so I started doing work with local community-based organizations in Chicago, where I was at the time, that were working on lead poisoning prevention, and helped to develop a program for students that were entering college, to introduce them to research but also this sort of community focus and prevention focus, and really just fell in love with public health and the idea of trying to prevent illness before it happens, and then have the opportunity to move to UCLA, and shifted into the School of Public Health at that time. And I’ve been super happy with that transition. I really feel like I have found my home in public health in terms of, it’s a great match both for my values, but I feel like I bring a fairly unique set of skills and perspective to the discipline, and able to contribute to it.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 08:01
It sounds like you’ve really let your passion be your vocation and be the guiding light almost for your choices. Now you’re Dean of University of Washington School of Public Health. I mean, it’s pretty tremendous, that kind of trajectory. Would you have ever thought you would be in this role when you first started?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 08:20
No, I don’t think so. Yeah, I mean, that’s something where I had a fair number of sort of personal struggles as a young adult in my late 20s and early 30s. I had a younger brother, who was sick for a long time and then passed away from cancer, had cancer myself. And that really caused me to become very centered in terms of saying what are the things that I care about? And recognizing that life is short, and it’s worth focusing on things that bring you joy. Yeah, so I’ve been fortunate in that way in terms of those experiences which were obviously not good experiences, but have informed a sort of more connectedness in terms of me following my passions and doing things that I feel like I’m contributing back in a way that’s meaningful.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 09:12
And how do you find yourself contributing back? What do you consider contributing back?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 09:18
Probably the way that I, the thing that I value the most in terms of contributing back is training and mentoring young people. So after moving to UCLA and joining the faculty of the Fielding School of Public Health, I really shifted towards a model where I worked with doctoral students who had passions of their own that they really wanted to pursue. Things that where they saw insights, where they knew they could change the world, and shifted my focus from sort of this doctoral student as apprentice to me model to me as an advisor, being a facilitator of them achieving the things that they want to achieve. And so as a result, that introduced a whole bunch of different types of work across a broad range of environmental health, but also really I’ve felt like, it’s been a great opportunity to just see these young people blossom that I know are going to continue and go on and do amazing things for the rest of their careers. So I would say, in terms of impact, that’s probably the thing that I value the most, in terms of my own work. Certainly the early work that I did on on lead poisoning, I’m very proud of also.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 10:38
Can you elaborate on that a little? As long as you’re proud of it.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 10:42
So the early work that I did was looking at what happens when lead interacts with proteins that normally have zinc or calcium in them and how that impacts developmental processes. But really getting down to the molecular level of why is lead different from zinc or calcium? What is it doing to the structure and activity of proteins, which was not a level at which people had looked at lead poisoning before? So it really was bringing to bear the very fundamental chemistry perspective on what’s an important pediatric developmental problem. So a very different perspective.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 10:44
And zinc is an important element in development, that’s for sure.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 11:03
Yes, that’s very important. So there are a number of zinc proteins that regulate developmental processes. And so what my students and I found was that when lead substitutes for zinc and those proteins, it distorts the structure and activity of those proteins, and so it basically messes up the developmental pathways,
Dr. Wendy Slusser 11:47
In particular, neurologic?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 11:49
Yeah, so neurologic development, which we see as being a primary outcome of lead poisoning in children, is neurological developmental problems. So that was what I did for the first part of my career. After moving to UCLA, one of the drivers for that was that there is this great group of people here interested in looking at whether or not nanoparticles, so very small particles, whether or not they had different types of toxicity than either this element itself, or large chunks of things that were made up of the same element.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 12:29
Specifically lead or other elements?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 12:31
Not necessarily lead. So we ended up getting funding from the NSF and the EPA to look at this problem.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 12:38
NSF is National Science Foundation.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 12:41
And the Environmental Protection Agency, for a center to look more broadly at the environmental implications of nanoparticles. And one of the great things about that center was it really was this holistic view of bringing together public health people, chemists, medical folks, people from environmental biology, people from engineering, all wanting to understand on a systems level, how do nanoparticles interact with different living systems? How does that impact ecosystems? And really answer this big question of like, do we need to worry about them as a special thing? Or are they just, is it just because of the things that they’re made up? So is it just for instance, that they’re made out of lead or copper? Or is it that there’s something inherently bad about things that are that size?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 13:31
Related to our health?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 13:33
Related to our health, yes. Our health, so people’s health, but also more broadly, animals and organisms out in the environment. So the Environmental Protection Agency looks not just at like impacts on people, but also how do, when we put things that are toxic out into the environment, how does that affect ecosystems, which in turn, of course, impacts people’s health as well, but also just inherently we care about ecosystems as well.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 14:01
And planet health?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 14:02
Yes, and planet health. That center was focused on looking at this big picture question of Is there something specific about nano-sized particles that makes them more toxic, than the elements themselves or larger materials. But we really approached it from a perspective of as we learn about what makes things toxic, how might we design alternatives that are less toxic? And so to me, that was a really just beautiful culmination of work on trying to understand toxicity, but to the point of making things that are better, that are safer, right? So not just understanding for understanding’s sake, but to have an outcome that benefits humanity.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 14:53
Would you distinguish that for why public health has that kind of lure for you? Is that it has that opportunity?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 15:01
Yes. So one of the big appeals to me in terms of coming to the School of Public Health at UCLA in particular, was that we had so many amazing faculty who are not just studying the basic science related to the environment and human health, but also doing what I call closing the policy loop of communicating that back out to people who are making decisions so that that evidence base could inform policy. So to me that was this really critical component that I wanted to be able to learn from those people on how to do that of how do we make sure as scientists that we’re not just doing great science, but that we’re also getting the results of that science out to people who can make decisions that improve everyone’s lives as a result?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 15:56
And was it, do you feel that in your division of environmental health, that many of your colleagues have the communication skills that you have? Because for me, I’ve been struck by your colleagues in environmental health and School of Public Health, as real advocates, and really interested in policy and what implications their work have on health policy.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 16:20
Yes, so that was, for me, one of the primary draws in terms of coming to UCLA. So specifically, colleagues like John Froines, who for years has been just not only a great scientist, but really powerful communicator to make sure that that science is informing policy decisions. Arthur Winer, another person in the area of air quality, who did just great work. Great example from Arthur’s work is he looked at the impacts of diesel exhaust from buses on kids, and then also worked with policymakers in the state of California to make sure that new schools are situated farther away from freeways. So really like long-term, big impacts of that science, making sure that society was benefiting from them. And then another person in the department who joined after I did, but has just been an incredible mentor for me is Dick Jackson, who’s been super involved in healthy campus as well. But Dick has been certainly someone who I’ve had many conversations with about how do you communicate to different audiences? He has been very kind and gentle in saying at different points, well, I don’t think I would have communicated what you just said exactly that way. And he and I co-taught together for a long time, and I learned a lot from co-teaching with him. But he is an amazing communicator and has dedicated a huge portion of his career to making sure that the decisions that are made in the public sphere are based on sound science.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 16:20
Yeah, in fact, I had to give a talk for the first time about health and climate two weeks ago, and I emailed him and I said, could you give me some of your one-liners, please? And he sent me an entire page of one-liners. He’s incredible.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 18:15
Yeah, in fact, he was someone who, before I went to go speak to the pediatric residents, actually, I had a conversation with him about the difference in terms of how basic scientists communicate with each other, versus how doctors communicate with each other. And he described very succinctly for me, like the structure of a standard sort of basic science seminar, and how that differed from the way that grand rounds are given within the medical discipline in terms of storytelling. That really has absolutely transformed the way that I communicate with professionals in my field since then, that I realized, yeah, there’s a lot of things about the way that we structure our talks in the basic sciences for other scientists, that actually isn’t a great way of structuring talks for anybody. So I even changed the way I sort of communicate to basic scientists as well. So yeah, but very intentional conversations about how we communicate ideas to each other.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 19:22
That’s a perfect transition point, because I was loving your talk that you’ve given now, I think for four or five years, to the pediatric residents. And so how did you arrange or plan the conversation you had with them around pesticides in food and their health impact? Like how did you figure that out?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 19:44
Yeah. So before I give a presentation to a particular audience, even if it’s on a topic that I’ve lectured on previously, I try and spend some time just thinking about what are the most important points that I want that audience to remember at the end of the conversation or the lecture, and then think about what are the critical pieces of information that will help to reinforce that message. So with the pediatric residents, rightly or wrongly, I came from that perspective of that they probably are getting questions from parents and trying to think about what were the kinds of questions that they were likely to get from parents. And thinking about if I only have an hour with them on this topic, what some critical information that I can give to them, so that they feel that they can respond to those questions from an evidence base, and also helping part of that, for me, with the discussion about pesticides in food or organic foods, the value of organic foods, is helping them to differentiate between what parts of the answer to that question really has to do with science and an evidence base, and which portions of the response to that are of value judgment. And being very intentional about separating those two, both in terms of my communicating to the residents, but also then thinking about how they might communicate that to the parents. So in the case of pesticides in foods, there’s a really strong body of literature supporting that the use of pesticides, has adverse health outcomes for farmworkers who apply the pesticides to the foods, and also a very strong evidence base supporting that putting those pesticides out into the environment is not good for our planet, not good for ecosystems as a whole.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 22:02
Because they kill, they sort of kill different valuable organisms in the ecosystem?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 22:09
Correct. And the evidence base about the impacts on the consumer is less strong. So making sure that they were aware about if you’re making a decision about whether or not to buy organic, about trying to avoid foods that were grown with pesticides.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 22:31
Now does organic mean that they’re not grown with pesticides or?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 22:35
So for the most part, yes. So there are some types of pesticides that can be used on organic foods, but only under limited, in limited categories and limited circumstances. But for the most part, the pesticides that we’re most concerned about in terms of the health of people amnd ecosystems, would not be used on organic foods. But the evidence base behind saying, this is important to me to buy organic, is one that should be based upon concerns about farmworkers and the environment, more than protecting, for instance, their children from pesticide residue. So if someone’s making a decision that they know that that’s the evidence base, and then whether or not they’re making a decision of the should I buy organic becomes them reflecting on their own values, in terms of how they value the people who are preparing their food, their value of the environment as a whole. As opposed to them feeling that somehow they’re hurting the health of their children, and reminding the pediatrician something that they know, which is that we really want both kids and adults to be eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you have a low-income family that’s worried about pesticides, and decides not to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables because they can’t afford organic, that would actually be a disservice to the kids in that family that they’re trying to serve. So to try and make sure that the families realize the important thing is that the kids are eating fresh fruits and vegetables. And then if they have the resources and they value the health and safety of the farmworkers and the environment, then it is a lovely thing to do to buy organic, but that it’s not critical to the health and well-being of their children per se. So that was part of that conversation. And then another part of it was also making sure that they realize that there are plenty of local farm producers who don’t necessarily go to the expense of getting the certification of organic but who sell, for instance, our local farmer’s markets, who use those same approaches and methodologies, but just don’t want to pay for the certification becoming organic. So to encourage them, again, to take advantage of those local resources of our local farmer’s markets, and our local food producers, that that’s a great source of fresh fruits and vegetables, and one that’s very economic.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 25:21
I can now understand how you always got the highest rankings among the pediatric residents among who was presenting, because it clearly, you very effectively delivered that message, because I felt that every pediatrician afterwards really understood the kinds of the balancing act that you have to have around talking about organic versus non-organic. And I remember, you also said though, you mentioned some foods, like if you had to buy organic, like, if you wanted to prioritize, what were you, can you remind me of them?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 25:55
So that’s where it comes down to the, to me sort of this, not necessarily so far in the evidence base, but on my personal value judgment. So some of it is evidence-based, which is the question of, if there are foods where it’s very difficult to wash off pesticide residue. Those would be ones that I would prioritize buying as organic or buying from the farmer’s market. So that would be things like your leafy vegetables, so your salad greens, berries, also, which are a little harder, they’re pretty fragile, a little harder to wash off. As opposed to say, like an orange, where you’re going to peel it or a banana where you’re going to peel it. So those are ones where I’d say like, if it’s difficult to wash or you’re unlikely to wash it, then that might be one where you would prioritize buying organic, if you’re trying to make a decision about where your money is best spent. The one that you’re probably remembering me saying that I personally, and this is a value judgment, always buy organic is the berries, and that was, I say that’s a value judgment, because I personally was opposed to the chemical that was being used to, for non-organic strawberries as a fumigant for non-organic strawberries. Not because I was worried about my personal health or my family’s health because it evaporates and so it’s gone by the time it comes to you as a consumer, but because I was so concerned about the impacts on the health of the farmworkers that are growing those berries. So that was one where for me it was that one specific chemical, I was personally opposed to being a party to having farmworkers being exposed to it. But again, that, to me, that again, sort of falls into this value judgment.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 27:40
Yeah, really thinking about your food more consciously from the way it’s grown, to how it’s produced, and delivered to you. I think a lot of people are thinking more thoroughly about that. And then where does it go at the end of your, even after your plate?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 27:58
Yes. And that’s what what I love about, for instance, the movement for farmer’s markets throughout the Los Angeles area, and in Washington, and also the Seattle area as well. So that’s a really lovely way to help people connect with sort of seeing where their food is coming from and talking to the people that are producing that food. And as you know, because you’ve worked in this area, another one is growing food yourself. The initiatives of having kids in schools growing food, in terms of kids really sort of connecting with where the food is coming from, and being more open to trying different types of vegetables in particular. Those are to me, those are really great movements in terms of us being more connected with where our food is coming from, that have all sorts of auxilary benefits to us.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 28:50
You know, you said you had this value judgment about this fumigant that they’re using for strawberries. Is there a resource that we could look at to be able to identify those products that really are using higher toxic fumigants or other pesticides that would be impacting the health of the farmworker?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 29:13
Yeah. So that particular example came from a report from the Sustainable Technology and Policy Program from UCLA, where they actually did an in-depth study of that particular chemical and its impact on people, particularly farmworkers. But more broadly, that’s a great question that I don’t have something off the tip of my tongue, but…
Dr. Wendy Slusser 29:37
What are your students’ projects?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 29:41
It’s not that I don’t think that it’s out there, it’s just I’m trying to think of what’s a great example, maybe. So one resource we have in the state of California that’s really amazing is the pesticide registry that we have for the state of California. And so I’m guessing that there’s some good resources on on that website. Why I say it’s such a great resource is that by law, California mandates that growers have to record use of pesticides, so what pesticides they use, when and where. And that’s all in this big registry for the whole state. And so that has enabled really important research looking at, for instance, impacts of pesticides on people who live close to farming areas, and showing that there are long term health effects on on those populations. And that never would have been possible without having access to that kind of registry.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 30:38
Well, so that’s sort of the next question, related to pesticides in my mind is that, yes, the food itself doesn’t sound like at least there’s not a direct correlation between our health if you eat the food that’s been exposed to pesticides. And fortunately, I know, at least some of the larger retailers now are offering organics at lower prices and the volume is high. So the price point even for organics is on the lower end, which is great for everybody, the Earth, and probably ultimately the human, but we don’t have the data yet.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 31:16
Right. Yeah, I want to come back to that. So yeah, I don’t want to give the impression that there’s no benefit to eating organic food for the person who’s consuming it. So there have been studies showing that people when they consume organic produce, that the amount of pesticide metabolite, so that what your body does to the pesticides, once it gets into your body, that they’re lower in people once they shift to an organic diet. So we know that’s the case, we just don’t know whether the difference is enough to be significant. So it’s not that I think there’s no chance that it’s better for the individual to eat organic. Again, I would say the jury’s still out on that one.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 31:56
Right. Yeah. And that would make sense to everybody, I would suppose, which is just more to study, I suppose. Which is always the case for scientists. One question’s answered, ten more have cropped up kind of thing. But I’m thinking the impact on the environment, you know, the planet and then also, of course, the workers and the people that live around these farms, really brings us to a broader question, which you mentioned, and talked about a lot. You did a terrific webinar a couple of years ago on it, this whole thing about climate and health, and the environment and health. And, you know, the challenge that you had identified in this talk that you gave two years ago was the fact that so few people, what is it, less than 50% of the population of the United States view that climate change has anything, that it’s not going to impact their own personal health, per se. And I’d love for you to talk to me about first of all, why do you call it climate change and not global warming? Yes, exactly why why do you call it climate change? And then I’d also really like to know a little bit about what you think the solution is to trying to engage people to really believe that there is a link between their health and the planet health.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 31:56
Yes. So let me start with your question of why do we call it climate change as opposed to global warming. That was a very intentional shift within the scientific community working on this topic, when we realize that the changes weren’t just that the planet is getting warmer on average, but also that we’re seeing more extreme weather events, things like flooding, droughts, hurricanes, that those are happening more frequently and with greater intensity. And so that’s why we refer to it as climate change now, as opposed to saying global warming. And I think that same expansion of that concept, also relates to your other question of the, you know, what might make people realize that it’s impacting them. I think there’s been a lot of change, even just in the last couple of years in terms of public perception about that, as we’ve had much higher frequency of really severe storms. In the United States, the kind of storms that we used to call 100-year storms that we see them happening with much greater frequency. And as people experience those, they realize, even though we might not be able to say this specific storm is due to climate change, that the pattern of having more of those storms more frequently, having them be more severe, that we definitively can say results from climate change. So I think as people in the United States are starting to see that in their communities and in their neighborhoods, that we’re starting to see a shift of people recognizing that climate change impacts them. What we’re still seeing a lack in the United States is people appreciating that the causes of climate change are human activity. So what can we, then coming back to your question of what can we do about that? I think two things. So one is to really emphasize to people that regardless of what the source is, that the ways that they can make themselves and their communities more resilient are the same. So it’s worth investing in improving the personal resiliency, and also the resiliency of their communities, regardless of whether or not they think that people caused climate change. But I do think we do need to continue to work on doing a better job of communicating to people about the scientific basis for why we know that climate change is caused by human activity. And that’s just challenging I think it’s challenging, not just because science is complicated. It’s also challenging, because it sounds funny as the scientist to say this, but not everyone believes in science, right? That’s true worldwide, and also in our own country as well, is that people have different belief systems. And so starting from the idea of I can show you from a scientific perspective, the connectivity between human activity and these outcomes. Underlying that communication strategy is the assumption that people’s framework for understanding the world is based upon a scientific framework. And that’s not necessarily the case. So I actually don’t know how we get to addressing that, for people who have that different framework. That’s where us, people who are in the sciences, collaborating with people who are working in the field of psychology, and the fields of communication is going to be really, really critical, because clearly the approach of just saying the same thing over and over again, is not successful.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 37:22
Yeah, I think what you’re, well, I have so many questions now, based on what you just said. So just to reflect back on what you just said about values, you know, really, it’s about values, it’s back to values. It’s not science and values don’t necessarily blend, they can, but they don’t necessarily. And there was a very important article that came out, I think, in 2014, from Lancet that talked about the fifth wave of public health, which was about culture of health. And, you know, in a sense, that’s like building a value of health that you value health. Now how you define health might be different, but the culture of health is one that we’re working on here at UCLA through the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. And now it’s spread to all 10 campuses with the Healthy Campus Network. And the article really was describing all the different waves of public health, right. The first one was clean water, you know, during cholera in England. And then the next was vaccines and antibiotics. And the third wave was doctors identifying illnesses that they could prevent in their clinical setting. And the fourth was determinants of health, right, that we know that where you’re born, and what kind of family you’re born into can really determine long-term health. And so the fifth wave being culture of health is an area that I think a lot of people are working on. And we’re, I think that the using a university as a anchor institution, in a community to propagate this kind of value, really creating culture to be considered in everything you do, whether it’s, you know, you’re the fireman, the police officer, or the professor, that culture of health or health is at that higher level of thought is not an afterthought. And so I’m wondering if that’s something that you’ve thought about in terms of this sort of trying to blend values with climate, understanding climate change.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 39:26
Yeah, yeah. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But you’re right. I mean, one of the things that’s so fabulous about the Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA, is that you are reaching everybody. So you’re right. It’s not just the people who want to go on to be doctors that are engaged in the Healthy Campus Initiative. It’s the really sort of re-baselining for the whole campus community. I think another thing that’s really, to me, fabulous about the Healthy Campus Initiative is the approach that you have taken of engaging the students in developing solutions. That experiential reflective learning, and having them have ownership for the way that it progresses and developing solutions is a really powerful approach. And you’re right, there probably are great lessons to be learned there in terms of both how we reach the broader community with similarly with culture of health, but also how we think about climate change but I hadn’t thought about it that way before. So it’s a nice little kernel of thought for me to take back with me. So thank you.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 40:50
Yeah, you’re welcome. I didn’t think, I am glad to contribute. I’m learning so much, right, in this last hour. Getting back to your comments about how though you feel that people who build resilience really will also be contributing to mitigating climate change, what do you mean by that? Like, how does building resilience, what do you mean by that and how would that mitigate climate change?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 41:17
Yeah. So normally, we classify building resilience activities under adaptation, which is the how do we, knowing that climate change is coming, how do we try and minimize the impacts of it as much as possible. But you’re absolutely right that some of those things that we can do to minimize the impacts of climate change on ourselves and our communities are also the same things that we know would help to contribute to minimize climate change in the long term. So let me give you some concrete examples of that. So in terms of the building resilience, one of the, to me, one of the things that’s most helpful about building resilience is the idea, kind of like what we were just talking about, with the Healthy Campus Initiative, of empowering people in terms of having, feeling that they have control over their future and their destiny. I think that one of the things that we see in modern society is that, that people feel like they have a loss of control over what’s going to happen to them. And that’s one of the reasons that climate change is so scary, is this idea that it’s this, you know, huge Earth-encompassing change that as an individual that I might be powerless to prevent. And that can cause people to sort of shut down, right?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 42:50
Dr. Hilary Godwin 42:50
And so the the building resiliency, part of it is saying, knowing that that’s happening, there are actually things that you can do to make you and your family more resilient. So that could include becoming more connected with your neighbors, right? So if you know that there’s a greater frequency of wildfires in the area that you live in, making sure that you’ve reached out to your elderly neighbors, so that if there’s a wildfire that they know you’re gonna swing by their house and pick them up as you evacuate. Just those kinds of things build an interconnectedness in the community. That gives you a personal sense of empowerment, but also does genuinely make your own community more resilient to the impacts of climate change. They’re also some of the some of the activities that you can engage in that build resiliency for yourself or your family that also have good long term impacts. So an example might be putting in solar power in your house, right? So one thing that we know is happening is, as we have warming, that our electrical grid is becoming more unstable, and so we’re more prone to having blackouts, right, rolling blackouts. And so you having a generator, having electrical power if you have a battery backup system as well, photovoltaics, that that gives you resiliency in terms of if there’s a blackout, that you’re better able to cope with it. But also putting in those photovoltaics means that you’re feeding renewable energy back into the grid, and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels which contribute to climate change. So it’s one of those where it gives you a personal sense of, I have a backup plan, but also allows you to know that you’re contributing to a solution through your actions.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 44:56
Those are very good concrete examples and from an individual point of view, for instance, if we were to talk to students here or to even, you know, our faculty and staff, which we focus on all of them, for the Healthy Campus Initiative and Network, like if they wanted to be intentional in terms of reducing climate change trajectory upwards, like, at least mitigating it, and then also helping their own personal health. Are there any examples that you could give? Like food, for instance, I understand, like, you know, the ruminant animals, if you reduce even a bit of that consumption, you could potentially really reduce significantly some of the climate change.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 45:43
Yeah, that’s a great example. So switching to people say Meatless Mondays, or switching to a more plant-based diet definitely overall reduces that sort of environmental footprint that you have. And it certainly is super, very healthy for you, as long as you’re using fresh fruits and vegetables, I mean, a good combination of protein sources. That’s a, in general, a good personal health move as well. So that’s a great example. Other possibilities, so the one that I frequently come to, which doesn’t really help in terms of preventing climate change, but does a lot in terms of personal empowerment, is the making sure that you have an emergency preparedness kit for yourself. So having a backpack that has the things that you would need. An example I often give to people working here that I got from a former student who used to work on disaster preparedness is if you commute to campus, making sure that you have a comfortable pair of shoes in your backpack or your car. Because if we have some kind of catastrophic earthquake event for instance, being able to walk home is going to be really critical. Sometimes when there are catastrophic events, you aren’t necessarily going to be able to take your car. So that’s when we’re, just the like knowing that you are ready in the face of adversity. I think the one that probably comes up most frequently here is wildfire preparedness, but that same emergency preparedness kit would prepare you for if there wa a major earthquake as well. In addition to the example that you brought up about switching to a more plant-based diet, another change that people can make on an individual level that is great, both in terms of mitigating climate change, and also great for them, in terms of their personal health is using more active transportation, so biking to campus instead of driving to campus. Great in terms of decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we have, but also really fabulous in terms of your personal health.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 47:51
Yeah, I mean, that actually was an interesting observation that Renee Fortier, our Head of Transportation had, which was that the health message has been much more effective for her in terms of reducing the people driving their cars on their own here. And she gave me a data point: this past year 33% of students, staff and faculty, commute now in a single-user car compared to the average of 75% in LA.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 48:21
Which is amazing. Yeah, UCLA has done a great job in terms of promoting both active transportation and also shared transportation as well, both of which are great in terms of reducing our environmental footprint.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 48:36
So in that case, Renee’s observation is that she’s used the health message as the way to effect change that then, of course, the added benefit is that it’s a climate health improvement as well. What would you say would be the kind of messaging that you have seen or consider would be useful for this shift in terms of choosing Meatless Mondays?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 49:01
Well, so coming back to your example, from transportation, there was another study at UCLA that Magali Delma and the Institute of Environment and Sustainability that where she looked at what motivated people to be more energy efficient in university housing, and she found that messaging around health was more effective than messaging around money savings. So that’s another example to sort of support that the messaging around health is something that people really listen to.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 49:33
And how did that help energy efficiency in the dorms?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 49:37
So they tried different, sending different messages. It was actually in, I think, in the graduate student housing, so in apartments. And they tried sending different messages to the people who were participating, letting them know how energy conservation impacted greenhouse gas emissions, and also production of pollutants and how that impacted children’s health outcomes in the Los Angeles Basin. That was a much more effective messaging strategy in terms of seeing them then reduce their energy consumption than saying, you’re going to save X number of cents by turning off this light.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 50:16
So it’s actually not even necessarily their own child that it was the children’s.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 50:21
Correct, it was a children’s health message in general. So, yeah, but coming back to your question of how might we use a similar health message for trying to get people to switch to a more plant-based diet? I almost wonder if the issue there, and I know you guys have started to look at this as well, is not necessarily that people don’t, I think people know that it’s healthier to eat a plant-based diet, I’m thinking that there’s more sort of cultural, social factors that are preventing them from adopting a more plant-based diet. So that’s where it might be helpful to actually work with some psychologists in terms of doing some studies to look at what’s keeping people from making that shift. And I know, that’s just my sort of intuitive guess and that could be wrong.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 51:12
I do. There’s actually psychologists, Amy Rowat and Janet Tomiyama, they’re both looking at the meat that’s being well, fake meat, I guess, that’s being grown in petri dishes. And they’re going to start looking to see the acceptability of that, because it actually tastes like meat, but it’s not meat. So we’ll see. But that’s just in the new first phases. Because you’re right. I mean, I think it has a lot, it’s so cultural, and food is so cultural, culturally driven. And the engagement around health seems to be a really value-driven engagement to so that gets back to trying to elevate health into the everyday fabric of our lives, of everyone’s lives. And allowing people to define health the way they want to define it, but just having health be part of a priority, not just for individuals, but ultimately, what you were describing earlier with your ability to translate science, translating the science to make it a priority for policymakers.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 52:16
Right, right. Yes. And also thinking about how to create policies that make the healthier options easier.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 52:25
Exactly. That’s one of the mechanisms. And then of course, the other mechanism being make the less, least healthy options less available.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 52:34
Right. Yeah, right.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 52:35
Both of those, sort of the contrary, the two, back and forth. You know, I mean, I think that your interest, your ability to communicate, your interest in what has evolved been a focus on mentoring and educating the next generation of leaders in science really are all have a common thread or theme of amplification. And it, from what I gather, and your observations over time have brought you to that step where now you’re the leader of one of the premier public health schools in the country, in the world, really. And I’d like to know, in your experience, in your short experience in Seattle, if you have found that Los Angeles and Seattle have similar challenges that you can apply your lessons learned here to there, or are there diverse or differences that you might want to highlight right now?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 53:32
Sure. So first of all, just to say, I still don’t view myself as the leader of the School of Public Health at UW, but more the facilitator of the great faculty, staff and students who are there. So the supporter.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 53:47
That’s why you’re such a great leader already, that’s the secret sauce.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 53:53
Yeah. In terms of, yes, I’ve only been there for a couple months. So what are the things that have sort of struck me as being similar and things that are different? So there are some things that are remarkably similar between the issues faced in Los Angeles and the issues faced in Seattle. One that’s very striking is the homelessness situation. So both cities, and this is true, I think, across the west, you know, the West Coast, is that we’re seeing people really struggling with being able to afford housing, and stay in affordable housing. And that’s true in Los Angeles. And it’s true in Seattle as well. I don’t think to me, it’s surprising that that’s true in both places. They are two cities where there is a big concentration of wealth, but there’s, which contributes to high housing costs, but also both cities have a lot of income inequality. And that of course then exacerbates the need to have low-income housing and affordable housing. So that’s one that certainly is common to both places. And like Los Angeles, we’re seeing in Seattle that national issues related to the opioid epidemic and mental health care are contributing to people’s difficulty in terms of staying sheltered and meeting their basic needs. So those are things that are in common. We’re seeing the wildfire prevalence in the Pacific Northwest increasing dramatically, just as it has been down here, and that’s having really bad impacts on air quality, just as it as down here. It’s probably the most visible impact of climate change in the Pacific Northwest. And I think it probably is down here right now.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 55:48
Most certainly now, yeah.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 55:49
Yeah. So those are things that are common to both places, and really point to the need for better social supports, addressing those upstream determinants of health that you mentioned earlier, like poverty and income inequality, and creating social supports for the people who are in greatest need and underserved communities. So those are common to both places. Something that surprised me in terms of, so as I’ve been going around and meeting with different stakeholders since I moved to Washington, I’ve been asking them, you know, what do you think are the most important problems that are faced by our surrounding communities, in terms of public health, where we could be making a greater difference? And one that I didn’t hear very often down here in Los Angeles that I hear very consistently up in Washington is rural health. So Washington has a very substantial portion of the population living in rural communities. That’s actually true in California as well. It’s just not perhaps as visible to us here in Los Angeles, right, because we’re in such a dense urban area, but it’s really very present on people’s minds up in Washington, particularly access to care. So we have really isolated rural communities that don’t have enough primary care providers. And so thinking about how do we work across the health disciplines, to partner public health, and nursing, and dentistry, and pharmacy, and medicine to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of those rural populations, and addressing basic health equity issues for those populations is a really high priority in Washington. And like I said, I don’t think it’s different from California. It’s just perhaps more frequently articulated even by the people who are living in the cities that I heard it articulated in the super urban areas down here.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 56:46
So if you were to have a two-minute ad on national television, and then I’m going to ask you about LA television, and then Seattle television. So if you had a two-minute ad on televisions, and that was going to be televised nationally, what would you want to say or do on that? Two minutes?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 58:12
Yeah, I think for me, the core issue when I go farthest upstream, in terms of that’s impacting the health of people in our communities, in our country worldwide that I would love to address and I don’t know if you could do it in a two-minute ad, but I guess I’d try, is the need for us to see the humanity in each other, and to look beyond political differences or differences in origin, and see each other as human beings and have empathy for each other. And you probably could do a two-minute advertisement that really emphasized that, again, sort of leveraging the impacts of health and inequity in our country. I mean, I guess I would probably choose something focused on children who have basic needs and security, because they think it’s easiest for people to realize that the children aren’t at fault when they are homeless or hungry. But we see so frequently, what I think is an unproductive narrative in our country, of people looking at adults who are suffering from basic needs insecurity and somehow imagining that they did something wrong. And I think the reality is we have a lot of evidence to support that there’s a lot of inequity in our country and our world, and people don’t all have the same opportunities. And there are a lot of circumstances beyond people’s control that lead to unfortunate outcomes for people and so it’s easy to see that when it’s our sister or niece or cousin, that somehow getting us to move beyond identifying differences and in other people and moving towards the common humanity and seeing people as human beings. I don’t know how you do that in two minutes. But if I had two minutes of primetime national TV, I think I’d probably focus in on that.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:00:18
So that, what I’m hearing you say is that you feel that building empathy will reduce inequity.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:00:27
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:00:29
That’s a, I think, very profound way of thinking through mechanisms of why we’re where we are today.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:00:37
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:00:38
And would you use that same message in your LA or your Seattle two-minute ad?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:00:44
Yeah, I, you know, regardless of where we are, for those of us who come from a place of relative privilege, it’s really easy to shut out the images that conflict with everything being okay. And because they’re hard, right? And so I do feel like it’s part of it is that empathy, but it’s also the reinforcing to people that it’s important to see the problems that surround us, and to recognize that they are hard problems to solve, and that it’s going to take a lot of time and continued effort to solve them, but it’s still worth trying.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:01:31
It’s almost like getting people to vote and thinking their vote counts.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:01:36
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:01:38
And I think they’ve done, I think people are moving towards feeling that way, actually. And I’m not sure, it’s beyond my scope of knowledge, but I’m feeling that if we were to leave our listeners with maybe four things we could do that not only would make us more resilient in the subjects that we just covered in terms of climate change and health, but also, is there something that we could do to even help mitigate, continue to mitigate the climate change march upward? What would you leave people with?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:02:11
It’s funny, because I almost always return to really basic recommendations, like, take really good care of yourself, right? So the things like sleeping well, eating well, getting exercise, so that you have the energy and emotional bandwidth to take on these challenging problems, and be personally resilient so that you’re able to contribute to solutions. That, to me, is sort of like one of the super basic ones, particularly for our students, and for all the people who are working in the health professions and any service field, right?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:02:51
Yes, you really, you have to take care of yourself before you can take others.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:02:55
Yeah. So that’s one. And I think a second one is this, recognizing that sometimes people aren’t engaged in solutions, because they’re overwhelmed. And so, looking for opportunities to help people feel empowered towards developing resiliency and developing their own solutions, like you’ve done with Healthy Campus. Those are really great things in terms of not just the short term, but the long term of building healthier, more resilient communities. I know you’re probably looking for more like, more immediate ones, like ride your bike.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:03:40
Well, the things that are tangible like people can do. I mean, I know a lot of people can’t ride their bike, but they can walk.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:03:47
Walking is great. I have to say. So one of the most wonderful things for me personally in terms of moving up to Seattle is I traded in my 30 to 40 minute commute each way to a half hour commute that involves walking to the train station, taking the light rail one stop and then walking from there to to my office. And it’s so much more pleasant. I’m so happy and I feel very blessed to, like, be able to live someplace where that’s an option. Yeah. So, yes, trying to find the opportunities for where we can make those sort of differences in our daily routine that make each day better.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:04:35
Yeah. Something else that Renee told me about active transport, which of course yours is now, is that people just naturally shed 10 pounds in a year just based on that change in their life, not changing anything about how they eat.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:04:52
Yeah, you know, I always, I heard that statistic many times and I always thought that it was as a result of the, like, the walking more, but having made that transition, the decrease in stress is also just enormous.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:05:10
Makes so much sense.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:05:11
Yeah, it’s so nice not to begin and end your day with…
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:05:17
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:05:17
Fighting traffic. Yeah. And they’re decisions that actually, you know, I look at it, it’s like, well, my gut reaction was like, well, it’s just not possible in Los Angeles. But in fact, they sort of looked, and my husband and I could have made the decision to like, leave our house in the suburbs and move to a smaller place that was closer to work and walk to work. And we chose not to. And it was helpful to have, you know, move to another city to have, to sort of say, I’m going to prioritize that. But in retrospect, I sort of think, oh, I should have prioritized that sooner.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:05:55
So that’s a little tip there.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:05:57
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:05:58
If you can try to live close to where you work.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:06:02
Yeah, it’s not always possible. But if you can, it certainly can improve your quality of life. Well, I guess depends where you work, but.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:06:10
Well, I think that what you’re just describing as the interconnectivity of emotional well-being, physical well-being, and social well-being, all wrapped up in active transport.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:06:22
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:06:25
So Hilary, I want to thank you so much for your ongoing leadership or mentorship, I suppose.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:06:31
Aww, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:06:32
And your ability to continue to do your incredibly great work and communicate science. And I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to leave us with before we end this podcast.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:06:44
I always like to end on a like, optimistic, hopeful note, which is, we talked about a lot of things that are, you know, challenges and big problems like climate change. And I think that, you know, people often ask me, like, how do you, working on those things, do you stay positive and happy? And I think at heart, it’s because I really believe in like, human potential for resiliency and doing things well and like when we set up systems to allow people to be healthy and succeed, the wonderful things can happen. So kudos to you guys for the Healthy Campus Initiative. I’ve seen how what an amazing transformation it’s brought to campus and glad to hear that it’s spreading to other places as well.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:07:33
Right on. Well, we’ll have to do something up where you are.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:07:37
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:07:38
So I’d like to hear about, you had represented a case in Australia that actually did shift the priority of the community around climate change. Can you explain that to me?
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:07:50
Yeah. So the example came from Sydney, Australia, where Sydney actually had a concerted effort, I don’t remember what the name of the program was, or the initiative was, but were they set out to change the perspectives of the people in the surrounding community about climate change and building resiliency to climate change. That by working on that sort of people’s perception of the issue problem, and tackling it from that side, that they were able to gain the political momentum that they needed in order to make systemic changes that weren’t tractable when the community wasn’t supportive. And so as a result, they’ve done some really amazing things on a city level in Sydney that have been hard to do other places. So it’s just an important reminder that reaching out to people, the people who live in that community, and making sure that they understand that there are potential solutions, and they can be part of that solution is really important.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:08:58
Thank you so much Hilary.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:08:59
Yeah, yeah, of course. Thank you.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:09:01
This is incredible, and you’re incredible. And I can’t wait, and I’m looking forward to potentially exploring maybe as we move forward with the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative and Network, that we’ll be able to engage with you in a meeting we might have in August, actually.
Dr. Hilary Godwin 1:09:18
Oh, that would be great. Yeah, that’d be great.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 1:09:20
Yeah. Thank you again for joining us. For more information about today’s episode, visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA Live Well on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Leave us a rating to tell us how we’re doing. And if you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, please tweet your idea to us @healthyucla. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.