Researcher and psychologist Kelly Young-Wolff recognized by American Public Health Association Maternal and Child Health Section
By Jan Greene
Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH, a clinical psychologist and Kaiser Permanente Division of Research investigator who studies substance use among vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, was awarded the 2022 Young Professional Award by the American Public Health Association (APHA) Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Section. The award will be presented during the section’s luncheon at the APHA annual meeting November 7.
The Young Professional Award recognizes an MCH section member aged 40 or younger who has made a significant contribution to maternal and child health, and who has potential for making a sustained and meaningful impact on the field.
Young-Wolff was recognized for her “outstanding program of research, teaching, and mentoring,” wrote Whitney Perkins Witt, PhD, MPH, past chair of the APHA Maternal and Child Health Section, in announcing the award. Young-Wolff has used her expertise in substance use, clinical practice, social equity, and public health networks in designing and disseminating her work, building a wide network of collaborators reflecting different areas of expertise, Witt wrote, and noted Dr. Young-Wolff’s strong commitment to studying how social determinants of health impact healthcare and health outcomes.
Since her recruitment to the DOR in 2014, Young-Wolff has become a recognized expert in prenatal cannabis use and its impact on mothers and their children. Working with a multi-disciplinary research team, she has produced work documenting increasing rates and frequency of prenatal cannabis use, along with associations between prenatal cannabis use and depression and anxiety, nausea and vomiting, and proximity to cannabis retailers. She also worked with Kaiser Permanente Northern California clinical and operational leaders to pilot test an expanded prenatal substance use screening questionnaire that was later implemented across the region.
My goal is to conduct research that can give women the data they need to make more informed decisions around substance use during pregnancy, and to provide clinicians with the tools to have productive, non-judgmental conversations around substance use with their patients.
—Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH
Young-Wolff also has a significant body of work focused on pregnancy as a critical time to stop the intergenerational cycle of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). This has included the pilot testing and implementation of ACEs and resilience screening and intervention as part of standard prenatal care.
“My goal is to conduct research that can give women the data they need to make more informed decisions around substance use during pregnancy, and to provide clinicians with the tools to have productive, non-judgmental conversations around substance use with their patients,” Young-Wolff said. “I’m fortunate to be part of a team at Kaiser Permanente that is beginning to answer some of these questions.”
Young-Wolff has received multiple grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published 112 journal articles. “Dr. Young-Wolff is a skilled thinker and writer, has an incredible capacity for research, and a strong passion to eliminate maternal and child health disparities. Her work is making a significant real-world impact on the lives and health of pregnant people and their children,” said Division of Research investigator Constance Weisner, DrH, MSW, who nominated Young-Wolff for the award.
Young-Wolff collaborates closely with colleagues in public health to advocate for greater knowledge around the health effects of prenatal and adolescent cannabis use and regulation that protects vulnerable people. “Dr. Young-Wolff is a powerhouse researcher and advocate for health equity who selects her issues carefully to be those with major potential public health impact, primarily for mothers and their children,” said colleague Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, senior advisor to the Public Health Institute. “She then consistently takes the next step to make sure that her research findings are translated into public policy or clinical practice.”
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About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being, and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 600-plus staff is working on more than 450 epidemiological and health services research projects. For more information, visit divisionofresearch.kaiserpermanente.org or follow us @KPDOR.