“The case for prevention of chronic disease is
compelling. Although Americans are living longer than
previous generations, we are witnessing an unprecedented increase in the
prevalence of chronic diseases.”
Michael O. Leavitt
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Building Partnerships for Prevention
In 1984, Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) to create a network of academic health centers to conduct
applied public health research. CDC was selected to administer the
Prevention Research Centers (PRC) program and to provide leadership,
technical assistance, and oversight.
With fiscal year 2008 funding of $29 million, CDC supports 33 centers
associated with schools of public health or medicine throughout the country.
Each center conducts at least one core research project with an underserved
population that has a disproportionately large burden of disease and
In addition to conducting core research, the centers work with partners
on special interest projects (as defined by CDC and other HHS agencies), as
well as projects funded by other sources. As a result, the PRCs’ portfolio
includes about 400 research projects each year.
The PRCs involve community members, academic researchers, and public
health agencies in finding innovative ways to promote health and prevent
disease. The partners design, test, and disseminate strategies—often as new
policies or recommended public health practices.
All centers share a common goal of addressing behaviors and environmental
factors that contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease,
and diabetes. Several PRCs also address injury, infectious disease, mental
health, oral health, and global health.
Some centers work with distinct populations, such as African Americans
and Latinos in inner cities, Mexican Americans along the United
States-Mexico border, American Indians in New Mexico and Oregon, residents
in rural communities who live below the poverty level, and people with
hearing disabilities. Other PRCs focus on youth or older adults.
Through scientific rigor, collaborative partnerships, practical
application, and community acceptance, the PRCs continue to find new ways to
improve the nation’s quality of life.
Disseminating Proven Strategies
The PRCs serve as a national resource for
developing and applying effective prevention
strategies at the community level, as the
following two examples illustrate.
Helping Older Adults Enjoy Life
Researchers at the University of Washington PRC partnered with the local
Area Agency on Aging and a nonprofit group called Senior Services to develop
and evaluate an intervention to address depression among low-income older
The resulting Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives for Seniors
(PEARLS) provided eight 50-minute, in-person sessions with a trained social
service worker in a client’s home over 19 weeks. In addition to a
skill-building intervention, the social service worker scheduled social and
physical activities for the client. After 1 year, researchers reported that
43% of the older adults who had participated in the PEARLS sessions reported
a 50% decline in depressive symptoms. Only 15% of older adults who did not
participate in the sessions showed the same improvement. Depression resolved
completely for 36% of participants, compared with 12% of nonparticipants.
Participants also reported improved functional and emotional well-being and
fewer hospitalizations. PEARLS is being disseminated throughout Washington
state. In 2007, it was included in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based
Programs and Practices.
Reducing Smoking Among Teens
The Not-On-Tobacco (N-O-T) program is designed to help young people aged
14–19 quit smoking. It was developed and tested by researchers at the West
Virginia University PRC in collaboration with state education and health
departments and the American Lung Association. N-O-T consists of ten
50-minute, gender-specific group sessions held mostly in schools and led by
trained facilitators. Session topics include motivation, preparing to quit,
and relapse prevention.
Nearly 33,000 teenagers in 47 states participated in the N-O-T program
during 1999–2003. A review of studies conducted in West Virginia, Florida,
and North Carolina reported that the quit rate among N-O-T participants was
nearly twice that of students in a comparison group that received only a
brief standard intervention (15% vs. 8%). Less rigorous evaluations of
field-based N-O-T programs that included 4,568 young people showed an
overall quit rate of 26%.
N-O-T is recognized as an effective program by the National Registry of
Effective Programs and a model program by SAMHSA, which supports the
provision of materials, training, and technical assistance for national
implementation of this program. In addition, researchers are developing a
physical activity component to N-O-T, called Quit & Fit, that is designed to
increase participants’ physical activity and assess the impact of physical
activity on smoking cessation.
Prevention Research Centers: Select Core Projects
University of Alabama at Birmingham Reducing health risks and health disparities in Alabama’s
underserved, rural, predominantly African American communities.
University of Arizona Influencing policy and conducting behavioral
interventions to prevent and control diabetes in multiethnic
communities along the Arizona–Mexico border.
Boston University Improving the health and well-being of Boston’s
public housing residents.
University of California at Berkeley Improving health in California’s Korean American
University of California at Los Angeles
Involving parents in promoting health, reducing risk behaviors,
and preventing disease among adolescents.
University of Colorado Reducing the risk for overweight, obesity, and
diabetes among children and adults in the Rocky Mountain region
Columbia University Developing a tailored Web site to improve
communication to promote the health of low-income, minority
Emory University Reducing health disparities and preventing
cancer in rural southwest Georgia.
Improving nutrition and physical activity among
children and adolescents.
University of Illinois at Chicago Preventing diabetes in Chicago’s low-income,
underserved, minority communities.
University of Iowa Empowering community groups in rural
Iowa to improve the health and quality of life of community
Johns Hopkins University Preparing young people in Baltimore to
become healthy and productive adults.
University of Kentucky Preventing and controlling cancer
among residents in rural Appalachian Kentucky.
University of Michigan Increasing the ability of
communities to reduce health disparities and improve residents’
University of Minnesota Preventing and reducing risk
behaviors among teenagers and promoting healthy adolescent
Morehouse School of Medicine
Building the capacity of
low-income, African American communities to promote health,
prevent disease, and reduce health disparities.
University of New Mexico Promoting the mental health and
well-being of American Indian youth and their families.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Reducing the risk for obesity among rural, low-income, and
minority women by empowering them to make healthy life changes.
University of Oklahoma Promoting healthy lifestyles among students in public
Oregon Health and Science University Improving the health of American Indian, Alaska Native,
and Native Hawaiian communities.
University of Pittsburgh Preventing disease and promoting healthy, active
lives for older adults in Pennsylvania.
University of Rochester Promoting health and preventing disease among people
who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Saint Louis University Reducing risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer
among residents in medically underserved, rural areas of
San Diego State University and University of
California at San Diego Increasing physical activity and improving
health among Latinos in San Diego.
University of South Carolina Promoting health through physical activity.
University of South Florida Using community-based prevention marketing
to improve community health.
State University of New York at Albany
Preventing and controlling diabetes among
medically underserved residents in the capital
region of New York State.
Texas A&M University Preventing diabetes and other chronic
diseases in underserved rural communities.
University of Texas Health Science
Center at Houston Investigating influences on children’s
behavior as they age to early adulthood.
Tulane University Improving health behaviors of New
Orleans residents through neighborhood
reconstruction and environmental change.
University of Washington Promoting physical activity
among older adults.
West Virginia University Improving health and quality of
life for rural adolescents.
Yale University Preventing or reducing chronic
disease among residents of
“We have a tremendous opportunity
to put prevention where it belongs:
first and foremost in the health
framework. The Prevention Research
Centers provide the scientific
foundation on which we can build
Kathleen E. Toomey, MD, MPH
Director, Coordinating Center for
Health Promotion, Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
Capitalizing on Unique Opportunities for
Research and Collaboration
Networking for Knowledge
PRCs encourage interaction among faculty from different disciplines, thus
bringing an array of expertise to each project. This blending of expertise
is essential to solving complex health and psychosocial problems.
Departments of education, social work, psychology, anthropology, and many
others work with the schools of public health and medicine.
The PRC network also fosters collaboration between the centers despite
academic affiliations or geographic boundaries. Sets of PRCs collaborate in
thematic networks to address priority health issues. Current thematic
networks address cancer prevention and control research, healthy aging,
physical activity policy research, Latino health, and cardiovascular health
research and translation. Because each center offers a unique geographic
location and community relationship, researchers can simultaneously test
interventions in different settings.
PRCs also work closely with state and local health departments, managed
care alliances and health maintenance organizations, state education
agencies, and national and community organizations. Through these
partnerships, promising research findings are translated into practical,
cost-effective prevention programs in communities.
Gaining and Sustaining Community Trust
To encourage trust, the academic institutions and community partners that
constitute the PRCs make long-term commitments and take time to build solid
working relationships. Researchers strive to respect the dignity of project
participants and the values of the overall community. As a result,
communities are able to implement changes and sustain them over time. These
principles also are applied at the national level. A representative from
each PRC community is appointed to the National Community Committee, which
makes recommendations to the PRC program and ensures that community members
stay involved through all steps of the research process.
Resource for Training
In collaboration with the Association of Schools of Public Health, the
PRCs offer 2-year fellowships for doctoral-level students of racial or
ethnic minority origin. Thirty-one fellows have gained hands-on experience
with projects directed by the centers and their partners. The PRCs also
offer extensive continuing education for health practitioners, public health
professionals, and aspiring leaders seeking challenge and growth.
Several PRC trainings were highlighted in the online journal
Preventing Chronic Disease (http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/ 2005/apr/04_0139.htm).
Examples include an evidence-based public health course, a physical
activity and public health course for public health practitioners, and a
social marketing education program. Other PRC training opportunities include
week-long institutes on a variety of health topics and workshops requested
by state health departments for their staffs. Evaluation of PRC training
offered in selected Latin American countries is in progress.
The PRC program will continue to promote dissemination of effective
interventions. Once an intervention has been proven to work, other groups
may want to implement it. The PRCs receive thousands of requests for
information or materials related to an intervention. They also work to raise
awareness of successful interventions and their availability.
the PRC program will continue to collaborate with other CDC programs and
public health partners to find ways to translate research into practice and
to advance dissemination research. The PRCs also will work across
organizational lines to cosponsor forums and other discussions of
The PRC network has developed a framework for an ongoing national
evaluation of the PRC program and is collecting information that will help
define the program’s future. CDC, an external evaluation team, and a group
of stakeholders developed a set of indicators to document the PRCs’
activities and outcomes, including research, training, and dissemination.
This quantitative study is being augmented by four qualitative studies
that are examining PRC approaches to community-based participatory research
and organizational structure, as well as the variety and goals of research,
diversity of training, technical assistance, and mentoring the PRCs offer.
The results of this evaluation will enhance the rigor of PRC research and
ensure accountability to stakeholders.
For more information please contact
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
4770 Buford Highway NE, Mail Stop K–45, Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
Telephone: 770-488-5395 • E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org • Web: http://www.cdc.gov/prc