New Prevention Research Centers Focus on Public Housing and Aging Population
November 27, 2001—The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention has awarded $717,000 to Boston University and to the University of Pittsburgh to study ways to improve quality of life in Boston public housing and among the aging population of Pennsylvania.
“These awards will be used to conduct important research into the needs of disadvantaged and underserved populations in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “In turn, these institutions will share their findings with communities throughout the nation.”
With the awards, Boston University and University of Pittsburgh join the Prevention Research Centers Program, a network of 26 academic research centers that work with communities to develop strategies for preventing disease and disability.
Boston University’s Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center will address the health and well-being of people who live in public housing, a population whose health status is at greater risk than that of the general population. Public housing residents are of primarily racial and ethnic minorities and of low socioeconomic status.
“Five million Americans live in public housing communities,” said Robert Meenan, MD, MPH, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health and the center’s Principal Investigator. “We want to transform public housing developments from housing of last resort to vital and healthy communities.”
The center is collaborating with the Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Public Health Commission to address environmental health, violence prevention, physical activity, communication, and other factors that affect well-being. The center’s partnerships are expected to serve as models for housing authorities elsewhere.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Aging will concentrate on interdependent elements that affect the lives of older people. “We believe disability and illness can be prevented among the elderly by considering multiple elements of people's lives rather than looking at just a single disease,” explained Lewis Kuller, MD, DrPH, the center’s director.
Pennsylvania claims the second highest percentage of people aged 65 years—after Florida—in the country. As people age, their risk for illness and injury increases, while their mobility decreases. Moreover, the poverty rate increases with age. With the overall “greying” of America, these circumstances suggest a burgeoning public health challenge.
The University of Pittsburgh Center for Healthy Aging is working with patients, providers, researchers, educators, and policy makers to foster older patients’ use of preventive care, increase their levels of physical and social activity, and prevent their development of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes—conditions that impair their quality of life.
“We are pleased to expand our Prevention Research Centers Program to these important areas,” said James S. Marks, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which coordinates the program. “Health is not just about lab tests and medicines—it is profoundly influenced by where we live and how we live. Addressing housing and multiple aspects of aging reflects CDC’s interest in looking broadly at the influences of public health.”
The Prevention Research Centers Program, an activity authorized by Congress, is notable for engaging communities as participants in research. Academic researchers build relationships with communities that help define research questions and conduct research and interventions—such as performing community surveys and educating fellow residents. As a result, many communities build capacity for ongoing services while contributing to new knowledge.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protects people’s health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations.