Students take on complex global health issues in case competition

By Rebecca Baggett | Emory Report | Feb. 16, 2012

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First-place team members include, from left, Britt Gayle, Jennifer Richards, Aiden Varan, Sandra Dube, Annie Herold, and Bradley Wagenaar. Photo by Tony Benner.

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How do you reduce the rate of childhood obesity in Mexico while not threatening the country's plans for economic expansion, which includes investments from the food and beverage industry? How do you change the behavior of the Mexican public, which has the highest per capita consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the world?

These are questions that Julio Hernandez, the director of the Division of Child Health in Mexico's Ministry of Health, must answer. Hernandez is also the fictional protagonist of an original global health case study that was presented to more than 70 Emory students who participated in the Emory Global Health Institute's 2012 Intramural Emory Global Health Case Competition on Feb. 11.

The competition, held at the Rollins School of Public Health, was the fourth global health case competition that the Institute has hosted. Twelve multidisciplinary student teams were given four and a half days to analyze this politically charged case and present polished presentations outlining original solutions to an external panel of judges. Judges included representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo. Additionally, one of the judges was Mauricio Hernández-Ávila, the former undersecretary of disease prevention and health promotion for Mexico's Ministry of Health, who has had firsthand experience addressing problems like the one presented in the case study.

"I could tell that all of the teams conducted an impressive amount of research and that they included solutions from fields other than public health. They presented some very good ideas and I would be interested in taking some of these ideas to policy makers in Mexico," Hernández-Ávila said.

First-place team members include:

• Sandra Dube from Goizueta Business School

• Britt Gayle from Emory School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health

• Annie Herold from Emory Law

• Jennifer Richards from Rollins School of Public Health

• Aiden Varan from Rollins School of Public Health

• Bradley Wagenaar from Rollins School of Public Health

The team won $3,300 in prize money, which includes a $300 Participants' Choice Award.

"The case competition was an exceptionally valuable experience. It was a great opportunity for me to explore a global health problem completely outside my field of research, analyze a current global health problem from all angles and disciplines, and synthesize expertise from my teammates' various fields into a productive and feasible solution," says Richards.

While all of the team members did not know each other before the competition, they bonded during the competition and are looking forward to representing Emory in the Global Health Institute's Extramural Global Health Case Competition scheduled for March 31. They will compete against 23 other university teams from Canada, Colombia, the United Kingdom, and across the United States.

"I'm looking forward to getting to the next case and competing against a whole new group of teams. There was some extraordinary talent at the internal competition, and I am sure the international competition will bring the same level of talent," says Herold.

"It will be great to meet all of the other students from around the nation and the globe and to introduce them all to our wonderful program at Emory," adds Wagenaar.