5 Questions with Faculty – Introducing Muntasir Masum, Interdiscinplinary Population Health Scientist

A portrait of Muntasir Masum.

ALBANY, NY (Sept. 25, 2023) -- The University at Albany School of Public Health welcomes Muntasir Masum, who joined the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics this fall. An interdisciplinary population health scientist, Masum’s research focuses on health-risk behaviors and population health processes and out

comes using methods from demography, social epidemiology, sociology, and psychology to explore the social determinants of public health issues.

Where is home for you and what drew you to the University at Albany?

The country where I grew up, Bangladesh, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, about 8,000 miles from Albany, NY. Bangladesh has the eighth largest population in the world, thus providing an excellent research opportunity for public health. Until I studied sociology at the University of Dhaka, I had a traditional upbringing and education. The study of sociology changed my perspective on the world and allowed me to analyze and understand social problems through a variety of lenses. I was fortunate to pursue my curiosity during my PhD studies as I delved deeper into understanding population health and health behavior.

During my PhD studies, I had the opportunity to explore my passion for understanding population health and health behavior. Through my research, I gained insight into the impact of alcohol consumption on health and mortality outcomes in the United States. This experience highlighted the vulnerability of population health to risky behaviors such as alcohol consumption and substance use. My training instilled in me the courage to ask bigger questions about public health and to approach research with an interdisciplinary population health framework. As an international scholar, I was open to pursuing my research interests wherever they may lead. Fortunately, the University at Albany provided the perfect opportunity for me to apply my expertise in social determinants of health to the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Your work is highly interdisciplinary. How has having a variety of background knowledge and skillsets impacted your approach to public health and the research that you do?

In my pursuit of research goals, I strongly believe in the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. My academic training and research experience have allowed me to explore and apply theories and perspectives from various fields including sociology, demography, economics, epidemiology, and public health. During my graduate studies, I mainly focused on health and mortality at an individual level. However, my recent works delve into investigating binge and heavy drinking among adults and their potential chronic health outcomes such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer risks, from a social determinants of health perspective. Looking ahead, I am eager to expand my research objectives by adopting multilevel perspectives to incorporate contextual, structural, and environmental determinants of health in my research.

My studies in sociology, demography, and prevention and methodology at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels have greatly influenced my approach to public health research. Having an interdisciplinary background enables me to formulate hypotheses that are not limited by specific methodological frameworks and to access a wide variety of discipline-specific data to test those hypotheses. Additionally, my interdisciplinary knowledge allows me to seek input and assistance from experts in other fields, which opens up opportunities for collaboration and expands the scope of my research portfolio.

What drew you to researching the effects of alcohol on population health?

During the spring of 2018, I was enrolled in a demography course that focused on mortality, which turned out to be the most enlightening graduate seminar throughout my PhD training. While researching for a term paper, I stumbled upon a report from the World Health Organization that highlighted the leading causes of mortality across the globe.

Growing up in a predominantly Muslim country where alcohol was banned, I never had much exposure to it, and hence, never understood its impact on society. However, I was surprised to learn that the WHO report identified alcohol as a causal factor in over 200 disease and injury conditions. It was a shocking revelation that took some time to sink in. Around the same time, I also discovered that alcohol consumption among women in the U.S. was on the rise. These two facts laid the groundwork for my term paper, which later evolved into one of my dissertation chapters and ultimately got published in Preventive Medicine. This experience ignited my interest in exploring the effects of alcohol on population health, and I hope to continue my journey on this path.

In what respects are alcohol use and social determinants of health interrelated?

The connection between alcohol consumption and social determinants of health is intricate. Social determinants of health are the circumstances in which individuals are born, raised, dwell, labor, and age. They significantly impact many health hazards and effects, including alcohol usage and the harms associated with it. Different sociodemographic factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, employment and working conditions, cultural and societal norms, access to healthcare, geographical location, physical environment, alcohol policies, marketing and advertising, early life experiences, and parental conduct, as well as adverse childhood experiences, shape drinking patterns across one's life and determine chronic health outcomes at the population level. It is vital to comprehend the intricate interplay between alcohol use and social determinants of health for public health interventions.

What do you think is the best public health approach to mitigating the negative effects of alcohol use?

Mitigating the negative effects of alcohol use requires a comprehensive public health approach. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, given cultural, economic, and political differences across regions, the best public health approach to mitigating the negative effects of alcohol use is a comprehensive one that includes policy changes, prevention programs, and treatment programs. Policy changes can help to make alcohol less available and affordable, and to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm. Prevention programs can help people to avoid or reduce their alcohol use, and to make safer choices when they drink. Treatment programs can help people who have alcohol use disorder to recover and live healthy, sober lives.

In addition to these specific strategies, it is also important to address the root causes of alcohol use from a public health perspective and focus on the basics of alcohol use patterns by sociodemographic and epidemiologic correlates. At the end of the day, the decision to drink alcohol comes down to a personal decision. It’s a decision we take fully knowing alcohol is not good for health. The culture of drinking will change with the decision to not drink at the individual level. Alcohol guidelines have been under scrutiny and have been revised across the world in the recent past, and it is high time, stricter guidelines are introduced to mitigate the social and economic toll in the United States.