Evan Thacker is a chronic disease epidemiologist interested in the connections between cardiovascular health and neurological health in older adults. In his view, gaining a basic understanding of chronic diseases is an essential component of a well-rounded undergraduate education in public health, because so many public health efforts, in the United States and internationally, focus on preventing the risk factors for, onset of, and adverse consequences of chronic diseases.
One of Dr. Thacker’s long-term research goals is to find ways to improve neurological health by reducing damage to the brain caused by cardiovascular disease. Many of his recent publications deal with atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder in which the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, quiver chaotically instead of beating rhythmically. Atrial fibrillation is important because it is linked to increased risks of heart failure, stroke, dementia, and premature death. Dr. Thacker currently uses data for his research from two epidemiologic cohort studies in the United States, the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) cohort, and the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) cohort. He has also worked on research projects in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition (CPS-II-N) cohort, the Group Health integrated health system, and Medicare health insurance claims data. He is a member of the American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention and presents his research findings at the council’s annual meeting each March.
Dr. Thacker served a mission in Sapporo, Japan, and his wife JaNeece served a mission in Copenhagen, Denmark. They now live in Orem with their two children. As a family they are working to complete a bucket-list of hikes in the Wasatch Range.
BS, Neuroscience, Brigham Young University, 2003
SM, Epidemiology, Harvard University, 2005
PhD, Epidemiology, University of Washington, 2011
Health of older adults
Thacker EL, McKnight B, Psaty BM, Longstreth WT Jr, Sitlani CM, Dublin S, Arnold AM, Fitzpatrick AL, Gottesman RF, Heckbert SR. Atrial fibrillation and cognitive decline: a longitudinal cohort study. Neurology. 2013;81:1-7.
Jensen PN, Thacker EL, Dublin S, Psaty BM, Heckbert SR. Racial differences in the incidence of and risk factors for atrial fibrillation in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2013;61:276-280.
Thacker EL, McKnight B, Psaty BM, Longstreth WT Jr, Dublin S, Jensen PN, Newton KM, Smith NL, Siscovick DS, Heckbert SR. Association of body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and blood pressure levels with risk of permanent atrial fibrillation. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2013;28:247-253.
Thacker EL, Psaty BM, McKnight B, Heckbert SR, Longstreth WT Jr, Mukamal KJ, Meigs JB, de Boer IH, Boyko EJ, Carnethon MR, Kizer JR, Tracy RP, Smith NL, Siscovick DS. Fasting and post-glucose load measures of insulin resistance and risk of ischemic stroke in older adults. Stroke. 2011;42:3347-3351.
Thacker EL, Wiggins KL, Rice KM, Longstreth WT Jr, Bis JC, Dublin S, Smith NL, Heckbert SR, Psaty BM. Short-term and long-term risk of incident ischemic stroke after transient ischemic attack. Stroke. 2010;41:239-243.
Why did you choose public health as a career?
Two key experiences led me to public health, and specifically epidemiology. One was working in nursing homes caring for people who had Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The other was developing and implementing a mentored public health research project while I was an undergraduate at BYU. Based on those experiences I knew I wanted to have a research career in which I could make a positive difference in the health of older adults.
What do you like about teaching here at BYU?
I love teaching in an environment that is infused with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also like working in a multi-disciplinary Health Science department where I can interact with faculty members and students who have training, expertise, and interests in a variety of different areas of public health.