The “Best of 2021 List” of Health Promotion Researchers

By Paul Terry, HERO Senior Fellow

HERO is pleased to report on the winners of the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP) Papers of the Year from 2021, to honor some of the best scientists in the health promotion discipline and recognize those who bring outstanding humanity to their field of inquiry. Reviewing the best studies selected by the journal’s editors gives us an opportunity to consider what unique research questions leading scholars in our field are pursuing and to consider how the results of their research can inform progress in our field.

Whether and how we are making progress in increasing parity in health promotion continued to be put to the test in 2021. This year’s award-winning scholars continued to offer our profession strategies for addressing systemic racism as they researched the impact of policies and interventions on ever more specific subgroups. You will also see that this year’s featured papers range from studying the role of character, to the role of culture in health promotion, a testament to the complexity and dynamism of the science informing our discipline.

Papers of the Year Award Criteria

The award criteria our journal editors considered were applied to both the study and the paper such that the:

  1. Study addresses a topic of timely importance in health promotion.
  2. Research question is clearly stated and the methodologies used are well executed.
  3. Paper is often cited and/or downloaded.
  4. Study findings offer a unique contribution to the literature.
  5. Paper is well-written and enjoyable to read.

Editor in Chief Papers of the Year for 2021

  • Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, PhD, Piotr Bialowolski, PhD, Tyler J. VanderWeele, PhD, Eileen McNeely, PhD., “Character Strengths Involving an Orientation to Promote Good Can Help Your Health and Well-Being. Evidence From two Longitudinal Studies.” American Journal of Health Promotion, Vol. 35, Issue 3, 2021.
  • Wang, Z, Wang, X, Shen, Y, Suning, L., Chen, Z., Zheng, C., Kang,Y., Jiang, L., Hao.G., Chang, C., Gao, R., Effect of a workplace-based multicomponent intervention on hypertension control.” JAMA Cardiology. 2020;5(5):567–575. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2019.6161.

Michael P. O’Donnell Paper of the Year for 2021

Dorothy Nyswander Paper of the Year for 2021

Editors’ Picks Papers of the Year for 2021 (Volume 35)

From Character to Culture as Contributors to Well-Being

Multi-dimensional problems call for multi-faceted solutions so it comes as no surprise that this year’s award-winning studies tested an eclectic mix of health promotion hypotheses. Several of these featured studies focused on individual-level interventions and associations such as the status of consumer beliefs about the costs of healthy food, the role of sexual identity in heart disease risk awareness, or preferred sources of COVID-19 information among health professionals. Other researchers focused on social forces that foster well-being such as the impact of community-based or workplace-based interventions on population-level health improvement. But, whether at the individual or collective well-being level, our field continues to study multiple determinants of health and how to factor the most powerful predictors of well-being into solving for health disparities.

As much as the field of health promotion has had a long-standing focus on supporting improvements in health habits, it remains that most professionals formally trained in this discipline were ensconced early on in the socio-ecological framework and the attendant interplay between social forces and individual choices. One of my Editor-in-Chief Award-winning papers this year offers a brilliant review of how the continuum between personal flourishing and collective well-being should not only be considered seamless but mutually reinforcing. Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska and colleagues wondered whether people taking actions that contribute to the good of others would have mental health and other well-being benefits. They found that this character orientation not only fostered happiness and life satisfaction, promoting good was also associated with less stress and loneliness at work and in the community. Weziak-Bialowolska’s findings were all the more interesting given she and colleagues examined this do-gooder tendency in two culturally different populations and found that the benefits of social connectedness are not confounded by culture.

While the benefits of some character traits seem inured to culture, the variation between countries in relative to containing COVID-19 casts a light on how powerful other culturally influenced traits can be in mitigating choices and jeopardizing or protecting health. That China’s communal culture has certain distinct public health advantages over America’s independent streak is apparent when comparing adherence to masking and quarantine guidance or mandates.

Studies that demonstrate the vital role of culture in population health improvement, and that use multi-component interventions with large samples over long time periods, continue to be a rarity in our field. That is why, for the first time, I have conferred an Editor-In-Chief Award this year for a study that was not published in this journal. Wang and colleagues conducted a cluster-randomized trial that compared 40 workplaces that were subject to a hypertension management intervention to 20 workplaces in a control group. This two-year program that combined education and clinical visits with environmental supports produced extraordinary results with an “absolute reduction in blood pressure equivalent to a more than 20% decrease in stroke and a more than 10% decrease in coronary heart disease.” I included the Wang study as an award winner in this journal, in part, because the full manuscript of the study is open access, that is, available at no charge, on the JAMA Network website. You will see that even though the study focused on blood pressure, other variables such as stress and drinking significantly improved.

HERO had the pleasure of co-hosting a webinar with the co-authors of the China study and was glad for the opportunity to ask about external validity issues and whether their impressive results could be replicated in American companies. A study co-author, Zugui Zhang, who has worked in large organizations in both the USA and Cahina, acknowledged that China’s “culture of collectivism” may make this study difficult to generalize in some organizations. The webinar, which also featured co-authors Zengwu Wang and Chun Chang and co-host Ron Goetzel, is available open access on HERO’s webinar archives.

HERO Webinar with Dr. Wang and Colleagues:

Wang, Z., Chang C., Zhang, Z., “Hypertension Management in the Workplace.” HERO Webinar. Hosted by Paul Terry and Ron Goetzel. (Open access).

The full editorial describing these studies in greater detail will be open access and available soon at the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Paul E. Terry, Ph.D., Editor in Chief, American Journal of Health Promotion, Senior Fellow, HERO, The Health Enhancement Research Organization.


©2024 Health Enhancement Research Organization ‘HERO’


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