Prevention Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis

Population of Focus: communities experiencing higher rates of obesity

Topic Areas: chronic disease, obesity prevention, physical activity, healthy eating

Introduction, Mission, and Vision

A group of people sitting around a table.

Staff from local health departments and key community partners participate in an Evidence-Based Public Health training.

The Prevention Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis (PRC-StL) at Washington University in St. Louis is one of 26 Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the 2019–2024 funding cycle. Each PRC is funded to establish and maintain their center and to conduct a core research project. PRCs may receive supplemental funding to conduct additional research projects and activities.

PRC-StL bridges research, practice, and policy to improve community health and achieve equity. Its core values are:

  • Equity and Inclusion: To recognize the expertise in the populations it seeks to serve and to center this expertise in the center’s work to build healthy communities where everyone thrives.
  • Innovation: To develop creative and innovative approaches to improve public health.
  • Public Health Impact: To conduct and share prevention research that drives change in population health to improve individual and community well-being.
  • Partnerships: To build relationships throughout the research process and recognize that shared commitment is integral to success and impact.
  • Team: To build on each other’s strengths and work together through open communication and mutual respect, while continuing to grow and learn.

“Our PRC conducts research in partnership with health department staff, policy makers, city planners, practitioners, and community members across many sectors,” said Ross Brownson, PhD, center director. “We seek to understand and, together, enhance and accelerate translation of evidence-based decision-making and effective interventions for chronic disease control into widespread practice among individuals and organizations, while also developing and refining rigorous methods that help advance implementation science and health equity. In this work, we have engaged with state and local health departments in every state and the District of Columbia, conducting research and helping to build capacity in evidence-based decision-making. This is the way we impact population health broadly.”

Core Research

Each PRC uses a community-engaged approach to conduct one primary applied public health prevention research project called a core research project. Project activities include design, development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination. PRCs use at least 50% of their CDC funding to conduct the project in partnership with communities.

Local-Level Implementation of Evidence-Based Policies to Address Obesity Disparities

PRC-StL’s core research project for the 2019–2024 funding cycle examines the implementation of evidence-based policies designed to address obesity and health disparities at the local level. Specific goals of the project are to:

  • Describe the prevalence and contextual determinants of obesity evidence-based policies (EBPs) in a sample of communities experiencing obesity disparities.
  • Test a set of approaches for translation of research about obesity EBPs among local policy makers.
  • Test the effect of social network-informed tailoring of implementation strategies on policy-relevant processes and outcomes.

The purpose of the project is to develop and apply approaches that will increase the use of effective policies at the local level to reduce obesity disparities and promote health equity. Working with a sample of communities, PRC-StL will identify key actors in local obesity policy and conduct social network analysis to map the structure, connections, and relationships that may influence communications about and use of EBPs for obesity.

This analysis, along with input from community members, will be used to guide the approaches and strategies implemented in each community. PRC-StL will also use this analysis to assess the overall effect of the strategies chosen on local policies for obesity prevention and progress toward health equity.

The goal of the project is to define the local processes, content, and outcomes that are necessary to ensure the implementation of effective policies.

Additional Research

PRCs may receive supplemental funding to work on additional research projects each funding cycle. These Special Interest Projects (SIPs) focus on a variety of health topics or gaps in scientific evidence. PRCs can also conduct additional research as part of SIP Thematic Research Networks, which are groups of PRCs working together on related health topics.

Dementia Risk Reduction Research Network – Collaborating Center

The rise of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) have become a worldwide public health crisis. Limited ADRD prevention and treatment options are available, but they are often not accessible to some community members.

As part of the Dementia Risk Reduction Research Network, PRC-StL aims to develop, implement, and evaluate a culturally tailored, community-delivered physical activity intervention for Blacks in St. Louis at risk for or newly diagnosed with preclinical ADRD.

PRC Vaccine Confidence Network (PRC VCN)

In April 2021, CDC funded a 12-month award to all 26 PRCs to form the PRC VCN in support of the agency’s Vaccinate with Confidence strategy for COVID-19. As part of this network, PRC-StL is examining vaccine hesitancy to find ways to promote vaccine confidence, increase vaccine uptake, and reduce disparities for African American people living in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The goal is to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 in the United States.

PRC-StL’s strategy includes collaboration with community partners who already provide direct outreach and vaccination services to the community of focus, as well as direct observation at vaccination venues.

Contact Information
Prevention Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis logo

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Principal Investigator: Ross Brownson, PhD


Deputy Director: Amy Eyler, PhD

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