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Thomas R. Kirchner

Due to their complexity, health behaviors of human beings are difficult to map out in only one dimension.  Our behaviors are layered and complicated, based on an intricate web of decisions, influenced by multiple factors.  Not unlike the way neighborhoods emerge from the interactive experiences of their residents, it is by linking individuals directly to their immediate surroundings that researchers can glean critical details about how people shape and then in turn are affected by their environment.

As a Clinical Associate Professor of Global Public Health at NYU and founding director of a new NYU mobile health or "mHealth" research initiative - Dr. Kirchner is establishing a Mapping Corps at NYU with the assistance of a team of undergraduates, graduates and post-graduate students to explore geospatial systems, technology, research, and community advocacy using mHealth tools.  Students will learn to apply these tools as part of his course offerings, to better understand how to leverage the power of their cell phone to collect data about their own neighborhoods and experiences, including exposure to different risks and resources most don't realize they come into contact with every day.

Tom and his team study how people make decisions about what they eat and drink, the places they go to exercise in their neighborhoods, the amount of time they spend outdoors, whether they smoke cigarettes and / or marijuana, and if the air outside is as clean as the air where other people live. In their NIH-funded POSSE (Point-of-sale Surveillance and Exposure) study they are utilizing a suite of cell-phone apps that determine - based in part on a person's movement patterns from day-to-day - the presence of tobacco products, local tobacco product pricing and marketing, and nearby assets such as parks or basketball courts. This data is then used to understand decision-making about the pros and cons of tobacco use, attitudes about the tobacco industry, and ultimately the way tobacco use outcomes are affected by the neighborhoods in which people live.

Other work funded by NIH and the DC Department of Health has developed a camera phone surveillance system that combines with a "crowdsourcing" platform allowing thousands of workers to collect photographs from their communities and then extract relevant information. This system quickly produces a comprehensive "picture" of an area that can then be linked with and enrich other known sources of data - such as illicit sales of tobacco to kids. "The data give us a framework to understand the factors that lead certain retailers to break the rules - and thus a powerful tool to support policy and enforcement standards that are more precise and ultimately fair to both community members and retailers who never sell tobacco to kids." These systems can be used to formulate and support other pressing policy and health research initiatives as well. A new initiative with colleagues at the Colorado Department of Health, University of Colorado and the Louisiana Public Health Institute is exploring the link between the emerging marijuana and electronic vaporizer product landscapes, and the way new legalization and decriminalization laws are influencing attitudes and decision-making about marijuana use.

In addition to his work here at NYU,Tom is an experienced research investigator, working for the Washington, DC-based Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy.  He holds adjunct appointments in the in the Department of Oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center and the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he served on the steering committee of the Johns Hopkins Global mHealth Initiative. 

Dr. Kirchner completed his Masters and Doctorate in both Clinical and Biological/Health Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Kirchner may be reached at tom.kirchner@nyu.edu.

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Thomas R. Kirchner, PhD, MS, Clinical Associate Professor of Global Public Health Founding Director of the NYU mHealth Research Initiative

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