Introducing the BMC Series SDG Editorial Board Members: Biplab Kumar Datta

Biplab Kumar Datta is an Editorial Board Member of BMC Public Health. He is an applied microeconomist working in the fields of global health and public health economics. After serving the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for nearly three years as a Prevention Effectiveness Fellow, he joined Augusta University as an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Public and Preventive Health.

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I am an applied microeconomist working in the fields of “global health” and “public health economics”. After serving the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for nearly three years as a Prevention Effectiveness Fellow, I joined Augusta University as an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Public and Preventive Health. I primarily study the burden and determinants/risk-factors of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and NCD related healthcare management. The overarching goal of my research is to generate scientific evidence to facilitate strategizing policies and interventions for NCD prevention and control.

I have particular interest in studying the association between early life exposure to adverse events and later life health outcomes and risky health behaviors. As such, I study how events like child marriage (i.e., getting married before age 18 years) or adolescent pregnancy impact health outcomes during young adulthood and early middle age. Though many aspects of child marriage such as reproductive health outcomes and women’s empowerment have been widely studied, there is a dearth of evidence on the long-term health outcomes associated with the harmful practice of girl child marriage. In my research, I investigate whether child brides and adolescent mothers at young adult age bear a different risk of having adverse health outcomes. The findings suggest that several chronic conditions such as hypertension, obesity, high blood pressure and high blood glucose comorbidity, etc. have strong association with child marriage and subsequent adolescent motherhood.

Link to the SDGs

This line of research is directly related to at least two UN SDG goals, namely Goals 3 and 5. One of the targets of SDG Goal 3 is to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one third by 2030 through prevention and treatment (Target 3.4). My research identifies child brides and adolescent mothers as a vulnerable group with added risk of hypertension, which is a major risk factor of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) – the number one cause of premature deaths worldwide. Targeted interventions and tailored healthcare services, therefore, will improve cardiovascular health in this population and facilitate reducing premature NCD mortality. Given an estimated 650 million child brides currently living and having heightened risks of CVD, improving their health will have a substantial impact on attaining the Target 3.4.

Further, the findings imply that child marriage prevention will facilitate addressing the risk of downstream chronic health outcomes in women. This is related to another SDG target of eliminating the harmful practice of child marriage (Target 5.3). Linking child marriage with risk of downstream chronic conditions thus, inform opportunities for coordinated public health interventions to end child marriage and reducing the burden of NCDs.

Challenges and future direction

This is apparently a new line of research with limited existing evidence. The challenge, therefore, appeared to be convincing the scientific community and general audience that the associations are real and have important public health implications. I often received review comments stating that the catastrophic consequences of child marriage are well established and there is no need to do studies like this that examine any specific health impact. In response, my colleagues and I persistently convey the message that effective management of chronic health conditions entails identifying and extending the reach of healthcare services to the population at risk. As such, child brides and adolescent mothers, who suffer from various forms of socioeconomic deprivations, need apt policy attention to mitigate the risk of adverse health outcomes in later life.

This research is in early phase and there is long way to go. My team is working on a series of papers that relate various health issues at adult age with child marriage and adolescent pregnancy. In short run, success of this research can be deemed as effective dissemination of the findings that girl child marriage is associated with adverse health outcomes over the life course, to appropriate audiences including mass media, policy makers and development practitioners. In long run, success would be designing and implementing orchestrated public health interventions to improve child bride’s health outcomes and to eventually eliminate the harmful practice of child marriage.

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