PITTSBURGH – Evelyn O. Talbott, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, today received the prestigious John Snow Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Royal Society for Public Health in England.
The award, which annually recognizes an outstanding scientist for excellence in epidemiologic practice or research, was presented to Talbott in Boston at APHA’s 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo, which marks the association’s 150th anniversary.
“I was so proud to have been nominated for this award and am incredibly honored to receive it,” Talbott said. “The biggest names in epidemiology are John Snow Award recipients, and they have all inspired me throughout my 50-year career with their dedication to improving health and preventing disease for all people. They taught me that if you believe in and follow the science, it will lead you to answers that can be turned into life-saving solutions for your community.”
Awardees are chosen for their contributions to the improvement of human health or substantial reduction in burden of disease through innovations in public health practice, based on clear epidemiologic foundations or implementation of epidemiologic approaches to the solution of health problems. Their contributions are practical, explicit and applied, rather than theoretical or implicit.
Several experts in the field of epidemiology recommended Talbott for the award, citing her publication of hundreds of studies, mentorship of more than 120 doctoral and master’s students, many of whom have gone on to federal positions protecting public health, and her service on the editorial boards of several academic journals.
“During a time of intense uncertainty and concern over the potential for long-lasting health effects of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident, Dr. Talbott stepped in as the principal investigator of the cancer health effects from TMI as one of only a few leading female investigators across the nation at that time,” said Robin Taylor Wilson, Ph.D., policy co-chair of the APHA Epidemiology Section and associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Temple University College of Public Health. “We are proud and delighted to honor Dr. Talbott’s significant contributions to our discipline.”
The John Snow Award is one of the oldest in the field of epidemiology. It commemorates John Snow, a physician who practiced in 19th century Britain and is credited as one of the founding fathers of epidemiology, which is the branch of medicine that deals with the spread and control of diseases. Snow used disease data and mapping to determine that a cholera outbreak in London was associated with contaminated water from a public water pump. He convinced authorities to stem the outbreak by removing the handle from the pump.
Talbott’s career has primarily focused on cardiovascular and environmental epidemiology. Early on, while working in the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office under the tutelage of the late Lewis Kuller, M.D., Dr.P.H., Talbott was perplexed by sudden cardiac deaths in healthy, middle-aged women. Talbott investigated, resulting in large case control and clinical studies of women with polycystic ovary syndrome, discovering that endocrine issues that afflict 10% of women can increase the risk of heart disease. The effort led to the National Institutes of Health issuing a statement on the importance of cardiovascular disease prevention in women with these conditions and earned her a Fellow of the American Heart Association Award.
In parallel to these studies, Talbott was a founding member and leader in establishing the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology in the late 1980s. In the latter half of her career, Talbott turned her attention to environmental epidemiology, studying how contaminants in the environment can affect population health. She led the only 20-year cancer mortality and incidence study of 31,000 people exposed to radioactive pollutants following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and an investigation of leukemia risk among community residents in northeastern Pennsylvania affected by a gasoline spill, which occurred in the early 1990s. From 2002 to 2014, Talbott assisted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tracking Program as the director of Pitt’s Center of Academic Excellence in Environmental Public Health Tracking.
Most recently, Talbott has studied neurotoxins, persistent organic pesticides and the risk of neurologic diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and dementia. She is also investigating how environmental exposures, such as unconventional natural gas development, may be associated with risk for childhood cancer.
Talbott received her B.S. from Bethany College in West Virginia and her M.P.H. in epidemiology from Pitt. After a brief stint working on a lead screening study at the University of Chicago, Talbott returned to Pitt to earn her Dr.P.H., joining the Department of Epidemiology faculty afterward.
“I always liked science – as a child I was always looking at bugs and spending time in nature figuring out what made things tick,” Talbott said. “When you’ve worked for 50 years, you really have a chance to hone your craft. Whenever there was an issue, I was willing to tackle it. That curiosity and desire to help my community are what made epidemiology such a joy.”
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CREDIT: University of Pittsburgh
CAPTION: Evelyn O. Talbott, Dr.P.H.