Preventing Chronic Disease in Arizona Border Region

The Arizona Prevention Research Center will continue its mission to prevent chronic disease among underserved populations in the Arizona border region thanks to a $7.5 million grant from the CDC.
Nov. 25, 2019

For more than 25 years, researchers at the Arizona Prevention Research Center have been working with community partners to develop, test and evaluate public-health interventions based on the latest science to address an array of public-health issues in underserved communities in southwest Arizona.

The Arizona Prevention Research Center, or AzPRC, at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has expanded the scope of its prevention efforts beyond diabetes to include behavioral health and emotional wellness; cardiovascular disease; cancer; asthma; physical activity; age-related hearing loss; sleep; and the built environment – physical environments designed with health and wellness as integral parts of a community.

To further its mission, the AzPRC has received a $7.5 million, five-year award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC award will allow the center to continue critical collaborations with community health workers and their organizations in Pima, Maricopa, Yuma, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties, in addition to expanding engagement with community health representatives in tribal communities.

The AzPRC is part of a network of 26 CDC-funded academic prevention research centers in the United States that study how people and their communities can avoid or counter the risks for chronic illnesses. The center, which continuously has been funded since 1994, is focused on the following core activities:

  • Sharing expertise and providing scientific services such as applied research, translation and program evaluation, working on public health efforts at the local, state, tribal and national levels.
  • Training the public health workforce and developing the capacity of its Arizona-based community partners to lead their own projects and secure nationally competitive funding.
  • Improving population health outcomes and contributing to reducing health inequities while conducting research that contributes to improved community and population health.
  • Developing new and innovative models to prevent chronic disease and other public health problems.

“We collaborate with researchers from across the university, including five different colleges and nine departments,” said principal investigator and AzPRC Co-Director Scott Carvajal, professor of health promotion sciences at the Zuckerman College of Public Health.

“Our partnerships ensure we are asking good research questions, leveraging community resources to address health needs, and that the interventions we develop are realistic and sustainable beyond the length of the funding period," he said.

A key component of the center’s research and programs involves working with community health workers, or front-line public health workers, who also are considered trusted members of the communities they serve

“We worked with the farmworker community in Yuma County to develop one of the first community health worker programs in Arizona in the 1980s,” said Maia Ingram, co-director of AzPRC and program director of community-based evaluation projects at the college. “We have championed the community health worker workforce ever since. Today, community health workers are working in clinics and community-based agencies throughout Arizona to address chronic disease through outreach, education, advocacy and policy change.”

"Chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are among the most common and costly health problems in the United States,” said UArizona President Robert C. Robbins. “At the same time, we know these diseases often are preventable. The researchers at the Arizona Prevention Research Center are leaders at the scientific forefront of translating and implementing evidence-based programs. As a physician, I am inspired by their mission to find community-driven solutions for the prevention of chronic disease to improve the lives of Arizonans and provide a model that other prevention research centers can replicate.”

The core research project is led by co-principal investigators Carvajal and Ada Wilkinson-Lee, associate professor in the Department of Mexican American Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. In addition to the core research project, the center includes two CDC-funded special-interest projects. The first is focused on managing epilepsy symptoms and is led by Dr. David Labiner, professor and head of the Department of Neurology in the College of Medicine – Tucson. The other project, focused on cancer prevention, is led by Cynthia Thomson, professor of public health in the Zuckerman College of Public Health and a member of the UArizona Cancer Center.

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