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Researchers sharing prevention lessons with their communities

CDC Prevention Research Centers turn 20

Health researchers around the country are taking an active role in preventing disease and improving health in their communities, thanks to a national program that serves as a stimulus for such efforts.

From teaching school kids about nutrition to engaging seniors in physical activity, work conducted through the Prevention Research Centers Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is changing the way Americans lead their lives and take care of their health.

The program, headquartered at CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, funds Prevention Research Centers at 28 U.S. universities. First funded by Congress in 1984, the program is celebrating its 20th year of operation.

About 500 studies and projects are currently being conducted via the centers, focusing on issues such as asthma, cancer, complementary medicine, HIV/AIDS, school health, job safety, nutrition, oral health and tobacco control.

To ensure that their work does more than gather dust on a library shelf, researchers in the Prevention Research Centers Program work directly with their communities to find out what areas of prevention need to be addressed. They then design programs that target the issues, test them and track their progress.

A strength of the program is that researchers at the centers have strong ties to their communities, working closely with residents, advocates and other health professionals, according to Eduardo Simoes, MD, MPH, MSc, director of the CDC program. “In order to have long-term results in a community that will make a difference, you have to involve a cadre of professionals,” Simoes said.

The Prevention Research Centers Program has achieved far-reaching results, noted Simoes. In Seattle, for example, an exercise program developed for seniors through the University of Washington’s Health Promotion Research Center has been such a success that it was named as an exemplary program by the National Council on Aging in 2003 and has been replicated in seven states. The program has even been translated into Chinese and is scheduled for launch by China’s Ministry of Health.

Developed in the 1990s, the Lifestyle Fitness Program works to get seniors physically active, improve balance and maintain flexibility. A second program called the Health Enhancement Program has also benefited seniors.

Researchers at the Washington Health Promotion Research Center continue to monitor the progress of the programs and are now working on studies and projects addressing depression among seniors, according to APHA member James LoGerfo, MD, MPH, the center’s principal investigator and a professor of medicine and health services.

In their work at the center, researchers keep close ties with community partners, which is key to creating programs that are sustainable in the long-run, LoGerfo said. The Lifetime Fitness Program, for example, is coordinated by Senior Services of Seattle/ King County, Group Health Cooperative and the Health Promotion Research Center. “If you want to make meaningful change, you have to have strong community ownership in the project,” he said.

Among the many other successful programs being carried out around the country as a result of CDC’s Prevention Research Centers Program is a Boston-based middle school curriculum that addresses childhood obesity. Developed through Harvard University’s Prevention Research Center, the Planet Health curriculum works to increase physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables. The curriculum, which has shown measurable results, has been purchased by groups in 48 states and 20 countries.

Additional projects that have arisen from the Prevention Research Centers Program include a Texas childhood physical activity program that has been expanded to multiple states, a West Virginia tobacco program that reduces smoking among teens and a Missouri program that encourages communities to address chronic disease. In each of the programs, researchers have been able to track results and show that the interventions work. “These are really winning programs,” Simoes said.

For information about CDC’s Prevention Research Centers Program, visit www.cdc.gov/prc or e-mail cdcinfo@cdc.gov. For more on programs at the University of Washington, visit http://depts.washington.edu/hprc.

A participant in the Lifetime Fitness Program gets a workout at Seattle's Central Area Senior Center in July 2002.
Photo by Chris Arredondo for the Lifetime Fitness Program,
courtesy the Senior Wellness Project—Senior Services of Seattle—King County.

 

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