Kiwon Lee’s Health Research in Fukushima

Read about Kiwon Lee’s research on the post-disaster effect on human health due to change in lifestyle behaviors in Fukushima, Japan…

Post-Disaster Health in Fukushima

By: Kiwon Lee, MA StudentMailman School of Public Health

An abandoned neighborhood in Minamisoma city after the earthquake in 2011

An abandoned neighborhood in Minamisoma city after the earthquake in 2011

When I started my first year at Mailman, I imagined myself working in Africa or South America for my practicum to address health disparities in developing countries. During the winter break, however, I came across an interesting study, which was done by The University of Tokyo in Fukushima prefecture addressing radiation effects on farmers after the great earthquake in 2011. On April 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake (magnitude of 7.1 Mw) hit Fukushima Daiichi, which caused meltdowns and release of radioactive materials of nuclear power plant. Soon after the accident, the Japanese government issued a mandatory evacuation for those who lived within 20 km radius from the nuclear power plant to an evacuation shelter.

 The Weatherhead MA Training Grant allowed me to pursue my research on the post-disaster effect on human health due to change in lifestyle behaviors in Fukushima, Japan. After the disaster, there has been an increase of stroke among population in Fukushima Daiichi. Interestingly, stroke incidence was highest among between 30 to 40 years of age compared to those over 50. I wanted to research various factors, such as stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, etc., that lead to increase in stroke and other non-communicable diseases (NCD) that might relate to this unusual trend of stroke in Fukushima prefecture. During my practicum, I had a chance to see the process of collecting health data as well as cleaning cohort data with different follow-up time period to process longitudinal analysis. Data cleaning was not so easy. Since I am not proficient in Japanese I had to spend first few weeks translating thousands of collected health check-up data into English. By conducting different approaches and designing research methods to identify scientific health outcome in Japan, I was able to develop my skills in many areas such as collaboration with individuals and groups with different agenda and different perspectives.

Crushed car in Minamisoma city after the earthquake in 2011

Crushed car in Minamisoma city after the earthquake in 2011

I was not only able to explore multiple methods to analyze different factors that contribute to increase in non-communicable disease, but additionally, I was able to meet and experience Japanese culture and daily lifestyle. Through this direct interaction with study patients, I was able to develop interpersonal communication skills in communicating wide range spectrum of age groups. This experience would be valuable for me in the future when I actually work in field of public health in global settings.

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