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Lynne Messer, Ph.D., M.P.H. Profile

Lynne Messer, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Associate Professor, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health
Phone: (503)725-5182
Curriculum Vitae   


Lynne Messer, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a social, environmental and reproductive/perinatal epidemiologist who teaches courses in epidemiology, health & social inequality and women’s health in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. She has served on the faculty since 2012. Dr. Messer is also an affiliate assistant faculty and research partner with Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU).

As an epidemiologist, Messer explores how the environment and social structure can influence people’s health and their ability to lead happy, healthy lives.

One key idea that drive’s Messer’s research is the intersection of environmental (in)justice and racial residential segregation, elements she finds partially responsible for the persistent health disparities we observe today.

Messer also investigates the second hit phenomenon (adverse prenatal exposure followed by adverse childhood or adult exposure) as helping to explain the widening of health disparities in the United States.

“You’ve got a mom who lives in an unhealthy environment,” said Messer. “We know already that her health is affected by that.” But what happens to that woman's children as they grow up in the same unhealthy environment? Messer's work is considering if later generations are impacted even more, with exaggerated incidents of poor health and risks for disease.

She identifies environmental remediation, or improving the physical, chemical and / or social environments, as a critical intervention opportunity to help undo the damage of unhealthy prenatal exposures and ongoing environmental insults.

“One of the things I love about environmental epidemiology is that it lends itself to policy,” says Messer. “So maybe in a conversation about air pollution standards, instead of considering just how bad we can possibly let air quality be without making everybody sick, we can instead think about at what level we can guarantee and improve health for all.”

Messer came to PSU from Duke University’s Global Health Institute. Her post-doctoral work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has evolved into an ongoing partnership, helping the agency construct an environmental quality index that includes indicators of both the built and social environments in addition to more traditional measures of pollution in air, water and land.

Messer obtained her Ph.D. in social and reproductive/perinatal Epidemiology and her M.P.H. in Health Behavior and Health Education at UNC-Chapel Hill. She holds a B.S. in community health education from the University of Oregon.

In her work, Messer also identifies strongly with psycho-social mechanisms, or “the way you think about things” to help understand how stressful events affect people differently. To illustrate this, she cites a quote from the popular Harry Potter series:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Albus Dumbledore, "The Deathly Hallows"


Select Articles

Messer LC, Boone-Heinonen J, Mponwane L, Wallack L, Thornberg KL. Developmental programming as a propagator of intergenerational health disparities. In press at Current Epidemiologic Reports.

Rappazzo K, Daniels J, Poole C, Messer LC, Lobdell D. Exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy and risk of birth at preterm birth among women in New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, 2000-2005. Environmental Health Perspectives, May 30, epub. 2014.

Anthopolos R, Kaufman JS, Messer LC, Miranda ML. The built environment as a mediator in the relationship between racial residential segregation and preterm birth in Durham, NC. Epidemiology, May;25(3):397-405. 2014.

 Messer LC, Jagai JS, Rappazzo KM, Lobdell DT. Construction of an environmental quality index for public health research. Environmental Health, May 22;13(1): 39. 2014

Messer LC, Maxson P, Miranda ML. The Urban built environment and associations with women’s psychosocial health. Journal of Urban Health, August 21 Epub. 2012.

 Messer LC, Vinikoor-Imler LC, Laraia BA. Conceptualizing neighborhood space: consistency and variation of associations for neighborhood factors and pregnancy health across multiple neighborhood units. Health and Place, Jul;18(4): 805-13. 2012.

Miranda ML, Messer LC, Kroger GS.  Associations between the quality of the residential built environment and pregnancy outcomes among women in North Carolina. Environmental Health Perspectives, Dec 2 Epub. 2011

Messer LC, Oakes JM, Mason S.  Disentangling socioeconomic and racial residential segregation: a cautionary tale of structural confounding.  American Journal of Epidemiology, Mar15; 17(6):633-73. 2010.

Holzman C, Eyster, J, Kleyn M, Messer LC, Kaufman JS, Laraia BA, O’Campo P, Burke JG, Culhane J, Elo IT.  Maternal weathering and risk of preterm delivery.  American Journal of Public Health, October 99(10):1864-71. 2009.

Messer LC, Laraia BA, Kaufman JS, Eyster J, Holzman C, Culhane J, Elo I, Burke JG, O’Campo P.  The development of a standardized neighborhood deprivation index: associations with adverse birth outcomes.  Journal of Urban Health, Nov 83(6): 1041-62. 2006.


Classes Instructed

PHE 450 - Epidemiology 
Introduces principles and methods of epidemiological investigation of infectious/non-infectious diseases. Illustrates methods by which properly conducted studies of the distribution and dynamic behavior of disease in a population can contribute to understanding of etiologic factors, modes of transmission, and pathogenesis of disease.

PHE 522 Health and Social Inequalities
Introduction to historical and theoretical foundations for social epidemiology; investigates the conceptualization and measurement of different social determinants of health using a life-course approach; explores how the "embodiment" of social forces influence disease processes; and examines different actions (i.e., behavioral, clinical, social, legislative and political) used to eliminate health inequities within our local, national and international communities. 

PHE 552 - Women's Health
Focuses on constructions of gender and sex and their implications for understanding determinants of population health, developing health promotion programs, and creating healthy public policy. Emphasizes the importance of the social, political, and economic context for women's health. Topics include epidemiology of women's health; diversity and health issues; reproductive health and sexuality; health care and access to health care services; violence; mental health and emotional well-being; aging; lesbian health; and research in women's health. Course learning will be synthesized through a community-based learning experience involving working with a community organization to evaluate women's health needs in Portland.