A capstone project in a Master of Public Health program is an independent research done during the last year in which the knowledge and skills learned are used to delve into a topic of the student’s choice. The study could be a literature review, a program evaluation, policy analysis or a research report.
There are literally hundreds of topics that could be selected for capstone projects that deal with aspects of the multiple challenges facing public health today. Here are five timely topics that invite broad exploration, imaginative study design, and deep understanding.
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) reports that every year, “hundreds of new chemicals are introduced to the U.S. market.” What regulatory mechanisms are in place to restrict use of known hazardous substances? What studies are being done? What agencies are involved? What kinds of policies, programs and leadership are needed to protect the public from chemical exposure?
The capstone project could do an in-depth study of this topic and present ideas to promote public awareness of this health hazard.
Prevention of Obesity
There is an epidemic of obesity worldwide, with an alarming spread among children. Obese persons are more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. But obesity is a preventable health problem, and public health has swung into action to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, through programs such as Let’s Move, and We Can!.
A new program taking a systems approach to fight the global obesity epidemic was begun at the Johns Hopkins Global Obesity Prevention Center. The ideas they generate by bringing together experts from diverse disciplines may spur the thinking of graduate students looking for a capstone project on obesity prevention.
Mental Health in Prisons
On June 9, 2016, three journalists and top writers shared their views on issues affecting health with public health educators and officials at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. One of the speakers was Laura Sullivan, an award-winning NPR News investigative correspondent. She talked about the plight of imprisoned, mentally ill prisoners who are left on their own without any counseling, medication or help whatsoever. There is no help either to the prison officials or guards on how to deal with mental illness. She had “visited the cages and padded cells where jailed inmates pull their hair, talk to themselves and scratch messages into the doors—using their own blood.” And these mentally ill are later released into the streets.
Mental health in prisons is a topic in need of a compassionate and innovative mind to explore and to generate some imaginative solutions.
Teenage Health Vulnerabilities
The adolescent years are a particularly vulnerable time when physical and emotional changes are occurring on top of a major brain development process. The following are some of the mental and physical health problems among teens that need to be addressed by public health.
• Self-Esteem and Body Image
• Eating Disorders
• Peer Pressure and Competition
• Cyber Addiction
• Substance Abuse
• Underage Sex and Teen Pregnancy
Although many helpful resources are available to parents, school and community programs are underutilized for addressing these problems. A challenging capstone project would be to create such a program in one health area which would appeal to young people. Another is to identify and evaluate one or more programs being tried at some sites.
Healthy Living in Senior Years
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that longer life spans and aging baby boomers will increase the proportion of Americans 65 years or older so that in 2030, 20 percent of Americans will be in this age group. At the same time, 92 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77 percent have at least two. This places a heavy toll on the healthcare system.
Brain scientists are now finding that the aged brain can adapt and compensate for certain regions that are having difficulties. Memory skill training and learning to compensate for normal age-related changes have improved the functioning of the elderly. A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, pursuit of new intellectual challenges and maintaining a supportive social network improves the quality of life for seniors.
A capstone project that explores ways of engaging seniors in activities that improve their health and functioning would be a valuable public health service. Novel ideas could be generated by applying new findings from scientific research on the elderly.
By completing a capstone project to enlarge understanding and ways of dealing with pressing health issues, a graduate student establishes her or his readiness to enter and contribute to the public health profession. A capstone project is a challenging and rewarding way to complete a Master of Public Health degree.