UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center awarded $4.4 million from CDC

Innovative program targets obesity, health disparities in Central Massachusetts

By Lisa Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

June 09, 2014
   Milagros Rosal, PhD, and Stephenie Lemon, PhD, are co-directors of the UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center
   Milagros Rosal, PhD, (left) and Stephenie Lemon, PhD, are co-directors of the UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center.

An innovative public health research center at UMass Medical School focused on reducing obesity and eliminating health disparities wasawarded $4.4 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center, originally funded as a developmental site in 2009, promotes good health and physical fitness through healthier lifestyles, emphasizing greater physical activity and healthier eating. The center has created partnerships between researchers and community organizations to research new ways to bolster healthy behaviors in Central Massachusetts and beyond.

“This is a great opportunity to extend our mission to identify practical, collaborative approaches for addressing the obesity epidemic among diverse communities throughout central Massachusetts,” said Stephenie Lemon, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine and co-director/principal investigator of the UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center. “Our program offers a unique opportunity for science to meet practice in an effort to develop solutions that promote the health and well-being of community residents, and we are honored to be a member of this research network.”

The CDC funding supports the center’s infrastructure, which includes pilot research projects, training opportunities for the next generation of researchers and its research partners, assistance to local and state public health initiatives, and dissemination of evidence-based public health programs for use in practice.

“This award recognizes UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center’s efforts to work in partnership with community-based organizations and stakeholders to improve the health of Worcester residents and combat obesity and related diseases in concrete and practical ways,” said Milagros Rosal, PhD, professor of medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine and co-director/principal investigator of the UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center.

The funding will also support an applied public health research project to test a community-based intervention targeting healthy eating and increased activity among elementary-school children and their parents in the Union Hill neighborhood of Worcester. As part of this intervention, community health workers will be trained to help families navigate opportunities and resources for physical activity and healthy eating within their neighborhood. Partners in this research project include the Oak Hill Community Development Corporation, Central Mass AHEC, the Worcester Division of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, as well as academic researchers at UMMS. Dr. Rosal and Wenjun Li, associate professor of medicine, are principal Investigators for the applied project.

“Preventing chronic disease is critical to improving our nation’s well-being and avoiding excessive health care costs,” said Wayne Giles, MD, MS, director of CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Our investment in the prevention research centers moves us closer to ensuring all Americans share the richness of good health.”

The CDC awarded $19.5 million to 26 academic institutions in 25 states to study how people and their communities can avoid or counter the risks for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, obesity and cancer. The funds support the development and evaluation of practical public health prevention interventions. The awards are for the first year of a five-year funding period. The UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center is the only entity in Massachusetts supported through this CDC program.

“Prevention research centers have reached up to 31 million people in 103 partner communities, some of which are the most underserved in the country,” said Ursula E. Bauer, PhD MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “By involving communities in conducting and disseminating research, this network of centers ensures that effective and innovative health strategies can be readily shared and applied where most needed.”

UMass Medical School

Stephenie C. Lemon, PhD, PI

Milagros C. Rosal, PhD, PI

Wenjun Li, PhD, PI

Suzanne Cashman, ScD

Judith Ockene, PhD, MA

Sherry Pagoto, PhD

Lori Pbert, PhD

Victoria Anderson, RD, MS

Amy Borg, MPH, MEd

Barbara Estabrook, MSPH

Christine Foley, MS

Ning Guo, MS

Kevin Kane, MS

Hyung-Joo Kang, MS

Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH

Karen Ronayne

William Rui, MS

Community Partners

Derek Brindisi, MPH, Worcester Division of Public Health

Joanne Calista, MSW, Central Massachusetts Area Health Education Center

Zach Dyer, MPH, Worcester Division of Public Health

Karin Valentine Goins, MPH, Community at Large

Judi Kirk, Boys & Girls Club of Worcester

Mónica Escobar Lowell, UMass Memorial Health Care

Thomas Land, PhD, Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Toni McGuire, RN, MPH, Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center

Cathy O’Connor, Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Clara Savage, EdD, Common Pathways

Mullen Sawyer, Oak Hill Community Development Center

Liz Sheehan Castro, Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council

Karin Valentin Goins, Walk Bike Worcester