Public Release:  Case Western Reserve University launches prevention research center for healthy neighborhoods

Program linked to Center for Disease Control and Prevention's research of urban health needs

Case Western Reserve University

CLEVELAND -October 21, 2009 -Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine proudly announces the establishment of the CWRU Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods (PRCHN), a collaborative research center to address common health issues faced in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods in and around Greater Cleveland.

The PRCHN will also serve as a regional research and public health data source. It is being developed with an initial $790,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to support both the infrastructure of the center and one demonstration research project, with the potential to receive up to $1 million annually for up to five years through additional CDC funding opportunities. The Center's goal is to engage a wide spectrum of disciplines both within the university and the community to foster a unified vision for community-based prevention research.

"The new PRCHN provides a framework for fostering partnerships within urban neighborhoods to develop, test and implement effective strategies and interventions in preventing and reducing the burden of chronic disease," said Elaine Borawski, PhD, Director of the Center for Health Promotion Research at the medical school and the PRCHN's Principal Investigator and Co-Director. "By collaborating with neighborhood residents, leaders and community organizations in Greater Cleveland, we hope to address the significant environmental and lifestyle issues that serve as barriers to good health."

The funding received for the Center is part of $25 million the CDC gave to academic institutions in 25 states earlier this fall, in support of prevention research. It is being awarded under the CDC's Prevention Research Centers Program, which was founded 25 years ago and examines how residents and their communities can prevent or counter the risks of chronic health conditions. Such conditions (including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer) account for 70 percent of all deaths in the United States and 75 percent of the nation's total health care expenditures, according to the CDC.

"Establishment of the PRCHN builds upon longstanding initiatives at CWRU that have engaged the community in identifying and addressing health and environmental disparities, which contribute to a greater burden of disease and poorer health outcomes among many of Cleveland's urban residents," said Susan Flocke, PhD, the PRCHN Co-Director and Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine.

The PRCHN at CWRU is one of two new comprehensive prevention research centers funded by the CDC; the CDC also funded five smaller developing centers, of which OSU was a recipient. Prior to these awards, Ohio was not represented in the PRC network.

"The timing for such a Center is right," said Terry Allan, MPH, Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner. "There is unprecedented regional support for uniting efforts to address public health priorities, particularly those that affect a disproportionate number of Cleveland area residents. A Center such as this enhances the university's community commitment. Simply put, Place Matters. Where you live has a profound impact on your health, your life expectancy and your ability to meet your full potential. We must create a movement in Greater Cleveland that gives the residents who live in these neighborhoods the tools to take charge of their own health and create real opportunity and hope for the future. We look forward to working with CWRU on this challenging task."

The activities of the Center will be carried out through six programmatic areas: research development; training and mentoring of community-based research skills; technical assistance and program evaluation; communication and dissemination of research findings; community collaboration; and Center evaluation. The programmatic cores are led by faculty across the university and are based on the substantial prevention-focused research, training and services offered by the university and the longstanding relationships many faculty have with community partners.

The Center will draw upon the expertise of faculty from five schools and colleges within the university, enhancing opportunities for collaboration among faculty and community partners. In addition to the medical school, university colleges and schools involved in the Center include the CWRU College of Arts and Sciences; the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing; the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences; and the School of Dental Medicine.

Collaborative research projects within the PRCHN will be organized around five priority areas based on current collaborations between faculty at CWRU and community partners. Those priority areas are Environmentally Healthy Homes and Communities; Improve Healthy Lifestyles in the Neighborhood; Tobacco Prevention and Control; Reducing the Burden of Chronic Disease and Urban Planning Poverty and Health Promotion.

As part of the initial funding, each PRC must sponsor at least one major research project. As a result, the PRCHN will partner with neighborhood residents and leaders to increase healthy food availability and accessibility within key venues where food choices are made, for example, at corner stores, schools, and community gardens.

"Good nutrition is linked to good health, but in many urban neighborhoods, lack of supermarkets, limited food selection in neighborhood stores and the prevalence of fast food create an unhealthy food environment," said Jessica Kelley-Moore, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology in the CWRU College of Arts and Sciences and leader of the PRCHN major research project.

The community-based participatory project called "Increasing Healthy Food Options in Disadvantaged, Urban Neighborhoods," is an extension of a partnership established between Dr. Borawski's Center for Health Promotion Research (CHPR) and the Cleveland Department of Public Health as part of "Steps to A Healthier Cleveland," a CDC-funded initiative aimed at reducing the burden of chronic diseases in Cleveland neighborhoods. Through their extensive work in Cleveland, CHPR became aware that the lack of healthy food options in many neighborhoods was a critical issue for residents and as a result the organizational leaders had already begun working with neighborhood stores to create solutions. The PRCHN research project will extend those efforts to address healthy food availability in a more comprehensive way.

"Ultimately, the PRCHN will drive a multi-disciplinary, university-wide endeavor, in collaboration with community organizations and residents, to better understand why many urban areas lack adequate access to health food and how this can be addressed," said Dr. Kelley-Moore. "While much research has focused on helping individuals make healthier eating choices as a means to improving health status, this project will delve into the broader issue of healthy food scarcity in underserved neighborhoods."

In addition to leading the project, Dr. Kelley-Moore will also oversee a rigorous research design to evaluate the impact of the project. In this effort, the PRCHN will partner with three underserved neighborhoods in Cleveland and one in East Cleveland, to implement and evaluate tailored, multi-dimensional interventions and strategies to increase access, affordability and availability of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables The project will engage the central neighborhood as its first Cleveland neighborhood; the remaining two have not yet been confirmed.

The project leaders will work with residents and leaders of each neighborhood to use the existing assets of their neighborhood and assist the neighborhood working group to map out a sustainable, year-long intervention plan involving schools, community centers, food retail establishments, and community gardens to carry out its objectives.

"We believe that the scientific community can learn a great deal by engaging the community in the process of understanding the issues associated with chronic disease, including the conditions, disparities and resources of the neighborhood itself," said Dr. Borawski.

Originally authorized by Congress in 1984, the CDC Prevention Research Centers Program underwriting the PRCHN, has been recognized for advancing the field of participatory research in which communities are directly involved in the design and conduct of research that impact them.

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About Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation's top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School's innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Eleven Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the school.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 800 M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News and World Report "Guide to Graduate Education."

The School of Medicine's primary affiliate is University Hospitals Case Medical Center and is additionally affiliated with MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002. http://casemed.case.edu.

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