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20th Anniversary Event

Photo of Drs. George Mensah, Dixie Snider, and Eduardo Simoes

CDC’s Drs. George Mensah (left), Dixie Snider, and Eduardo Simoes are seated while the audience assembles for the Prevention Research Centers anniversary program

Two decades of accomplishments by CDC’s Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program were recognized in a ceremony and reception at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center, following the opening of the 132nd Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association.

The PRC Program brings academic researchers, community members, and public health agencies together to collaborate on developing effective strategies, tested and applied in the field, to prevent and control the leading causes of illness and disability in the United States, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Since funding the first three centers in 1986, the PRC Program has evolved into a national network of 33 academic-based research centers from coast to coast. The work celebrated has had an impact on not only community health strategies, but also on reducing health disparities. Through partnerships with a wide range of institutions and community organizations, the PRCs have undertaken research activities in communities that are home to some of the nation’s most disadvantaged populations. Those communities have included residents of rural Appalachia as well as people living in urban public housing, Mexican Americans on the U.S.-Mexico border, American Indians in New Mexico, and African Americans and Latinos in Harlem.

At the event, George Mensah, M.D., Acting Director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, remarked that “No other program explicitly requires researchers, public health professionals, and community members to work together as equals to develop and prove disease prevention and health promotion strategies and move them into widespread practice.”

Commenting on the PRC Program’s unique configuration and the effect of the work, Mensah added that the celebration was not “simply about 20 years of research [but] an inestimable number of years of life saved and an unquantifiable number of people who will not become ill or disabled because the research collaborators found ways to prevent disease and protect health and the quality of life.”

During his comments, Mensah recognized Mike Gemmell, Executive Director of the Association of Schools of Public Health from 1978 to 2001. Gemmell was one of four public health leaders—the others, Drs. Robert Day, D.A. Henderson, and William Bridgers, were unable to attend—whose foresight encouraged Congress to mandate prevention research to improve the nation’s health. Mensah also welcomed five new Prevention Research Centers to the family (see sidebar).

Five New Prevention Research Centers

Five new additions to the Prevention Research Centers Program and their core projects are as follows:

San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego
Increasing physical activity in Latino families around Tijuana, Mexico
Emory University
Reducing health disparities in rural southwest Georgia
University of Rochester
Understanding health risks among the deaf and hard of hearing
Oregon Health & Science University
Addressing vision and hearing loss in American Indian communities
Texas A&M University
Preventing diabetes in underserved rural communities

During the event, Georges Benjamin, M.D., Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, expressed his admiration for research that actively promotes better health. “I support the ways in which this flagship program of the CDC engages communities in studying research strategies, helping people to be informed and make good choices, and most important, to have a sense of confidence that they can take control of their own well-being,” he said. Benjamin added that public health can take greater responsibility for embracing and disseminating proven strategies, such as those the PRCs design, test, and package.

To acknowledge the community as an integral part of the program, participants from three PRC projects were invited to share personal accounts of their involvement. Willie Smith, Jr. and his 10-year-old son Willie Smith, III enrolled in the University of Michigan Prevention Research Center’s Fathers and Sons Project. The project explored whether frequent, positive contact between African-American preadolescent boys and their non-resident fathers can increase healthy behaviors in both groups and prevent substance abuse, violent behavior, and early sexual initiation among the boys. “Because of the research project, I was able to do things with my son that I otherwise may not have because I don’t live with him,” said the elder Smith.

Steven Najera, a School Food Service Coordinator in Brownsville, Texas, explained how the Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH) program has grown from its inception. CATCH, an elementary school health program designed to help children improve their diet and increase their physical activity, now reaches more than 750,000 school children throughout Texas as well as school children in seven other states and those attending one of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 320 overseas elementary schools. The program’s dissemination is attributable to the Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Veronica Oates, a fellow with the CDC-Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) Prevention Research Centers’ Minority Fellowship Program, described her work in a faith-based setting served by the Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In introducing a colorectal cancer screening project in a minority community, Oates found testimonials from community members to be most powerful in reducing the barriers that discourage many people from obtaining early detection tests.

Dixie Snider Jr., M.D., M.P.H., Chief of Science of CDC/ATSDR, then spoke and emphasized how PRC is a vital extension of CDC. According to Snider, the program’s application and dissemination of research results contributes to CDC’s goal of using science to address health problems, while simultaneously creating valuable partnerships for participatory research crucial to improving health outcomes. “The Prevention Research Centers are themselves partnerships that bring organizations and communities into partnership with CDC, extending the agency’s reach in ways that are sometimes hard to do, particularly in underserved communities where health disparities are yet to be solved,” he said.

On behalf of CDC, Snider presented awards to members of the PRC network. First, he presented an Award of Honor to E. Yvonne Lewis and Ella Greene-Moton, Chair and Chair-Elect, respectively, of the PRC National Community Committee (NCC), for having given of their knowledge and expertise as well as of themselves in developing the committee since 1999. The NCC, which comprises a member of each PRC’s community committee, advises the program, facilitates training of community members, and advocates for prevention research. The awardees received a crystal flame engraved, “For your dedicated effort and significant contributions to the development and sustainability of the Prevention Research Centers National Community Committee.” Ms. Greene-Moton accepted for herself and Ms. Lewis, and briefly addressed the audience expressing her appreciation as well as continued commitment to community participation in research.

Snider then presented honors to five PRCs for outstanding accomplishments in extramural research. The award winners, selected by external peer-reviewers from among nominations, were as follows:

  • Innovation in Prevention Research — West Virginia University, Centers for Public Health Research and Training, for the Not on Tobacco project.
  • Excellence in Community-Based Prevention Research — Morehouse School of Medicine Prevention Research Center for its Community Coalition Board.
  • Excellence in Research Translation — University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research, for promoting the adoption and maintenance of the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) Program.
  • Excellence in Training and Technical Assistance — University of South Carolina Prevention Research Center for providing training and technical assistance through courses in physical activity and public health.
  • Service to a Partner Community — Maine-Harvard Prevention Research Center, a partnership of the Harvard Prevention Research Center, for implementing and facilitating activities that have extended the capacity of the PRC partner community, which includes the Maine Bureau of Health and the Maine Center for Public Health.

The event was hosted by Dr. Carol Bryant, Co-Director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Eduardo Simoes, PRC Program Director. Following the formal program, attendees visited with the speakers and other guests, viewed exhibits of the PRCs’ work, and shared refreshments.

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