Fresno State projects look to better Valley health

Tobacco use by Hmong, drift of pesticides studied. (March 1, 2005 - By Jim Steinberg | From The Fresno Bee)

Fresno State is increasing its emphasis on practical research to improve health and raise the standard of living in the San Joaquin Valley.

The use of research to upgrade the way Valley residents live is reflected in recently announced grants and in continuing work in various academic fields.

Subjects range from better teaching techniques to improving literacy among students to assessment and reduction of tobacco use by Hmong residents across California. Administrators at California State University, Fresno, say this and other "applied research" is the wave of the Valley’s future.

Thomas H. McClanahan, Fresno State’s associate vice president for research and sponsored programs, emphasizes that the public research grants are separate from a coming capital campaign that will concentrate on private donations.

Fresno State researchers recently received $838,076 in grants, including one addressing the migration of pesticide residues from outdoors to the interiors of homes and apartments. Another multi-year study is interviewing Hmong residents in Fresno and across the state to determine how widespread smoking has become in that population. Although Hmong used tobacco in Laos for medicinal and ritual reasons, they did not smoke cigarettes until foreign soldiers and others introduced the practice, says Ge Thao, a program developer at Lao Family Community of Fresno.

"Our survey has a lot of cultural questions," he says. "How were they introduced to tobacco? Was it medicinal? To fight mosquitoes? Peer pressure? What brand? Were you introduced to smoking by the military?"

Thao says, "Before the war, some people smoked a pipe. If we understand why they smoke now, we can know how to provide counseling appropriately."

Professor Vickie Krenz of Fresno State’s health science department has been working on the smoking study, which has contacted almost 5,000 minors and adults.

"The Vietnam War was the first introduction to smoking for most Hmong," Krenz says. "The military paid off soldiers with cigarettes, and they became a sign of respect and status. Cigarettes were used in negotiations for weddings. A healer or shaman might visit, and you showed respect by sharing cigarettes."

The more acculturated that Hmong immigrants became in the United States, the more likely they were to smoke, she says.

Krenz also is project director of a subcontract for the agricultural pesticide study.

The CSU Fresno Foundation entered the subcontract with Colorado State University to identify and enroll Fresno County families in the study of agricultural chemicals’ movement from outdoor to indoor environments.

The project collects and analyzes outdoor soil samples and residential dust specimens under requirements for California’s pesticide use reporting database.

"This does not address health outcomes," Krenz says. "We do not establish a link between environmental exposure and health outcome."

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