May 18, 2020
By Shellie Edge, Innovate Carolina

While smoking in the United States is declining overall, stark disparities still exist across segments of the population. Many subgroups, including low-income and racial/ethnic minority populations, continue to shoulder most of the disease burden. That nuance might not be apparent for the average person, but it became clear for a team of students at UNC-Chapel Hill who recently won a social innovation competition by exploring ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities in smoking – and what it may take to address the root causes.

The team of graduate students is from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health who won UNC-Chapel Hill’s first Map the System Competition, which held its campus finale in early May. A global competition organized by Oxford University’s Said Business School, Map the System challenges students to use systems thinking to understand complex social or environmental challenges. More than 40 student teams at Carolina registered to participate this semester, and five finalist teams were selected to present in the final round of competition. The public health team’s project – called “Using Systems Science to Advance Health Equity in Tobacco Control” – took the top spot among an impressive set of finalists that explored a wide range of issues: hog farming, food insecurity, colorectal cancer and the effect of sand extraction on marine ecosystems.