WashU’s Prevention Research Center Receives $3.8 Million to Help Put Evidence to Work

Faculty; Public Health; Research

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded $3.8 million to the Prevention Research Center (PRC) at Washington University in St. Louis to lead a broad effort to better practice evidence-based policies to improve health. The five-year grant will fund the PRC’s administrative core, as well as its own research project aimed at reducing obesity.

The PRC is made up of practice, policy, community and academic partners who work together across disciplines to prevent chronic diseases and promote health among diverse populations through their expertise in applying proven research.

“Our center and research project address behaviors like exercise and healthy eating that have a big impact on the burden of cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases,” said the center’s founder and director, Ross Brownson. He is the Steven H. and Susan U. Lipstein Distinguished Professor at the Brown School and a prominent leader in the field of evidence-based public health.

The deputy director of the PRC is Amy Eyler, associate professor at the Brown School, where the center is based. She is a leading researcher on how policies influence physical activity and obesity, as well as broader policy issues in public health.

The center’s core research project will focus on ways to persuade elected and appointed local officials to adopt policies proven to reduce obesity, particularly among low-income families where the problem is the greatest. The PRC will use a “team science” approach that will involve scholars and a community advisory committee representing many disciplines. The project’s main aims are to:

  • Describe the use of evidence-based policies in 200 communities with obesity disparities.
  • Test the effectiveness of different kinds of policy briefs to gain support from 320 local policymakers in a randomized trial.
  • Test the effect of tailored implementation strategies to address obesity in 20 communities with different social-network structures.

The PRC will use the results to evaluate the best ways to communicate research to policymakers and to different communities, then make recommendations for doing so.

“Not enough is known about the most effective ways to put research-tested policies into effect, and our work will provide strategies to do this for a variety of health risks in different settings,” Brownson said. “Our study will be among the first to describe the role of narrative communication in shaping local policy and help to better define the local policy process.”