CDC selects UIC for public health research network

Child working in classroom
The Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, or P3RC, at UIC’s School of Public Health will study a public health intervention in Chicago Public Schools.

With $3.75 million in research funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Illinois at Chicago will continue its work as one of only 25 academic institutions in the CDC’s Prevention Research Center network. Collectively, the network will develop, test and evaluate various public health interventions across the nation.

UIC and its School of Public Health will use the funding to establish the Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, or P3RC. The P3RC will study a wide range of public health issues. It also will support researchers and community leaders in advocating for change and leveraging research data to advance policies and practices that improve population health and equity.

The center’s core research project will test a health intervention — the addition of a dedicated health care specialist — in Chicago Public Schools. The specialist will support CPS schools on the West Side in implementing health education, health services, nutrition and physical activity opportunities.

“Schools, especially those located in communities that experience significant health disparities, are uniquely positioned to educate children on health and provide services and additional opportunities for students to achieve health,” said Lisa Powell, UIC professor and director of health policy and administration and principal investigator for the P3RC.

UIC’s Jamie Chriqui will lead the core project.

“CPS is the third-largest public school district in the nation and one of the most diverse,” said Chriqui, UIC professor of health policy and administration. “Chronic diseases amongst Chicago’s schoolchildren vary greatly across the city as well. Recognizing this, there is a real need in Chicago for tailored programs that help address obesity, diabetes, asthma and other chronic health conditions in specific regions of the city, such as the West Side region.”

In addition to helping the CPS regional network achieve Healthy CPS status, the specialist will help schools build health and wellness programs in alignment with the CDC’s “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” model.

The researchers will compare the health and educational outcomes of the CPS network, its schools and students in the study with that of students in a West Side network without the services of a specialist. Health outcomes include diet, physical activity, substance and tobacco use, and sexual behaviors. Education outcomes include performance on standardized tests, for example.

The researchers also will track school and network families’ enrollment in various public health programs, like the Affordable Care Act, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

“This project is exciting because if we can find something that works in a CPS network, we can share the lessons learned and expand the program to all of CPS and to urban school districts throughout the U.S.,” Chriqui said.

The P3RC also will conduct additional CDC-funded special interest projects. One study will seek to improve care for patients with cancer by standardizing emergency department protocols, increasing cancer survivors’ engagement with primary care physicians, and assessing the feasibility of improved early detection for breast and cervical cancer through the emergency department. Another study will look at pedestrian-oriented zoning and land use policies in 2,000 municipalities across the U.S. to understand their impact on physical activity, sedentary behavior, commuting and pedestrian fatalities.

UIC’s Christina Welter, a co-investigator, will lead the training and translation arm of the P3RC. She said the goal is to help break down barriers between researchers and practitioners.

“There needs to be a more timely exchange between on-the-ground practitioners, who are often in the best position to lead or promote systems-level change in their communities, and the researchers studying interventions and analyzing policy,” said Welter, UIC clinical assistant professor of health policy and administration. “Practitioners also need more workforce development to help increase their readiness and capacity to use and build evidence in what they are doing.”

The P3RC will include a skills institute for assessing practitioner needs and providing training to help improve the adoption of evidence-based public health practices.

“The P3RC is excited about the opportunity to work closely with our partners over the next five years toward our goal of improving population health and equity through a paradigm shift that builds capacity and bridges practice, translation and research for sustainable and effective policies and programs, and supportive systems and environments for all,” Powell said.

Also working with Powell, Chriqui and Welter at the new center are UIC’s Elizabeth Jarpe-Ratner, Guddi Kapadia, Julien Leider, Angela Odoms-Young, Karen Peters, Heather Prendergast, Oksana Pugach and Amber Uskali.

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