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Dr. Jay Maddock
Dean, School of Public Health

Texas A&M University


Dr. Jay Maddock assumed leadership of the Texas A&M School of Public Health in February 2015. A top 25 ranked public health graduate school by U.S. News and World Report, the school educates and trains health care professionals at campuses in Bryan-College Station, McAllen and Houston – through a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Maddock is a Fellow and Past President of the American Academy of Health Behavior; received the Award of Excellence from the American Public Health Association, Council on Affiliates; and was a charter member of the National Institutes of Health study section on Community-Level Health Promotion. Named the Bank of Hawaii Community Leader of the Year, he chaired the Hawaii State Board of Health and co-authored the state Physical Activity and Nutrition Plan.

Maddock has given invited lectures in numerous countries including Australia, Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, El Salvador and Brazil, and he holds honorary professorships at two universities in China. His research has been featured in several national media outlets including The Today Show, Eating Well, Prevention and Good Housekeeping.

*** Dr. Maddock will be a Featured Speaker at Health Tech Austin's Population Health Conference on August 7th and 8th.

HTA - Tell us about your personal/professional background?
I grew up in Rhode Island, the oldest of four children.  Went to Syracuse University and dual majored in psychology and sociology.  I returned home after that and got my PhD in experimental psychology from the University of Rhode Island at the age of 25.  From there, I moved to Hawaii for a post-doc at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii eventually moving to the Department of Public Health Studies where I was until 2015, and then moved to Texas A&M.
HTA - How does the TAMU School of Public Health try to improve the health of communities in Texas?
The School of Public Health actually works in every county in the state of Texas.  We use the social ecological approach to improve the health of communities.  This means that to improve health you need to look not only at the individual level, but also at the social aspects, the effects of organizations like schools and worksites, and the larger policy and environmental factors including both the built and the natural environment.
HTA - You’ve mentioned the need to encourage high school students to become interested in public health. Are you working with any high schools in Texas on instituting a class in public health and are schools, such as Texas A&M, seeing enrollments increasing in this field?
Our biggest movement has been at the undergraduate level.  Three years ago, we started the BSPH.  We have seen tremendous growth every year and expect to have over 500 majors this year.  Our undergraduate capstone class worked with the Milam County Health Department to develop an introductory class in public health at the 4th, 7th and 11th grades.
HTA - As a previous director of the University of Hawaii Public Health Program, what are some best practices that Texas can import from Hawaii?
In Hawaii, we worked a lot at the policy level.  We increased the smoking age to 21 and banned smoking on beaches.  For physical activity, we looked a lot at community design. How cities and town could be built to be more walkable and bikeable.  In most places in Texas, we have really built our communities around cars and trucks.
HTA - How do you see technology helping improve patient outcomes of some of the vexing population health challenges our communities face?
Technology is really essential in a place like Texas where there are so many rural communities.  We have a tele-mental health counseling center that mental health services to five counties in the Brazos Valley. While this is a great first step, we are still looking for scalability. We need to move from clinic and traditional telephone-based care to video on mobile devices.  One of the big questions is if we will be able to use artificial intelligence to provide counseling and other clinical services.  We are never going to work our way out of healthcare professional shortages, this could be a game changer.
HTA - You have traveled extensively across the world giving lectures about public health, what have you learned from those experiences?
It is interesting that as different as the world is, people tend to die from the same things.  In almost every middle and high-income country, smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity are the biggest causes of premature death.  Poor mental health and low back pain are the biggest causes of disability. 

Japan which has the longest lifespan in the world had a diet focused on fish and vegetables and an active lifestyle.  Many countries in Europe are this way too with more bikes than cars.  Ireland was one of the first countries to ban smoking in all workplaces.  There is a lot to be learned about how different countries address their public health issues.
HTA - Your bio says that your research is in “social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity.” What does that mean and what does your research show?
As I mentioned earlier, we need to think of the person in the complete context, not just their psychology but also their social, organization, and community setting.  For instance, the life expectancy for a man in Austin is five years longer than someone living in Beaumont.  In physical activity, there are environments that promote activity and those that inhibit it.

We can tell people to walk 30 minutes a day but we know that about half of Americans are not going to do this.  But what if a worksite had their parking lot a 15 minute walk from their office.  A person walking to and from the parking lot would get those 30 minutes a day without even thinking they were exercising.  This is the power of the built environment.
HTA - Why are Southern states among the least healthy in the country?
That is a complex question.  The first is that they are.  The 10 least healthy states in America are almost all from the Southern United States.  Part of this can be attributed to poverty but it is not the only factor.  Fitness is low.  The Southern states have more military recruits that get hurt in basic training because they are not fit when they enlist. 

None of the southern states has a comprehensive smoking ban while more than half of the US states do.  The cities in the South also tend to be the least walkable.  Finally, it is hard to find a primary care physician with the rates per 100,000 much higher in the Northeast.
HTA - What solutions do you see for combating the obesity problem in American children and adults?
Again this is a complex issue.  The root cause is too many calories in, and too little expended.  We need to be able to shift that back to where it was in the 1950s. We see a lot more sedentary time now than we did in the past.  There is not enough physical education in schools especially after the elementary school level.  Kids also don’t walk to school much anymore.  There has been a tremendous drop in active commuting to school. 

After school, electronic devices have replaced playing outside.  When I was young, we didn’t come home until my mom rang the dinner bell.  Now you go down neighborhood streets and their empty. 

On the food side, its portion size and availability.  Food is always available and it’s gotten bigger.  I’m particularly worried about sugary beverages.  A soda in 1990 was 12 ounces.  Now its 20 ounces.  That’s 75% bigger.  Liquid calories don’t fill people up that way solid calories do.  It adds a lot to the daily intake.
 HTA - What makes the Texas A&M University System uniquely qualified to help deliver improved outcomes for communities across the State of Texas.
One of our biggest assets in the Cooperative Extension Service.  AgriLife is in every community in the state.  Led by Chancellor Sharp’s vision, they have been reinventing themselves as health extension.  We have been excited to partner with them.  We are developing a skill set that will train them to be health leaders in their communities proving mental health screening along with mobilizing community members to improve the health of their own communities.
HTA - How do you learn?  What are you reading?
I am definitely a lifelong learner.  I read all the time.  I’ve read every issue of the New Yorker for the past decade.  The articles provide an in-depth look into a variety of topics with a lot of thought provoking ideas.  I just finished reading, “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore.  It is a piece of historical fiction that examines the electricity wars between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison while also featuring Nikola Tesla. 

The Age of Invention was such an exciting time and it explores the different motivations and processes between these three geniuses.  I think it has a lot of relevance to where we are today with the rise of technology.