Prevention Research Center aims to improve health of Illinoisans

The University of Illinois at Chicago is one of 26 federally funded Prevention Research Centers to study how people can prevent or lessen their risk of chronic disease, with the goal of reducing health disparities in communities across the state.

The Illinois Prevention Research Center, part of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy, is funded by a five-year, $4.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct innovative public health prevention research.

UIC researchers will look at increasing physical activity by improving access to the built environment and use of parks and playgrounds in the community.

The project gives UIC researchers an opportunity “to apply our expertise in prevention research to health challenges and disparities here in our city and throughout the state,” said Lisa Powell, principal investigator and director of the Illinois PRC and professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health.

The center’s first endeavor will be to evaluate the health impact of Chicago Plays!, a Chicago Park District project to renovate the city’s playgrounds. Led by Sandy Slater, research assistant professor of health policy and administration at UIC, the project will look at 78 park playgrounds — 39 that have been renovated and 39 that have not – to determine whether community stakeholders influence park utilization and physical activity and in turn shape the neighborhood social environment.

children on playground“Given the importance of moderate to vigorous physical activity in reducing chronic disease risk, and the fact that only one-quarter of low-income urban minority youth currently meet national recommendations, the research is highly significant,” Powell said.

The center will allow UIC researchers to “further develop community collaborations and improve the evidence-base on what environments and policy changes work best to improve the health of Chicagoans,” said Powell.

The center will partner with local and state government, community groups and small businesses to conduct research. The findings will help guide public health policies and environmental changes aimed at improving nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco avoidance to reduce chronic disease risk — and to diminish disparities among population groups in these health behaviors and outcomes.

The Illinois PRC was awarded five special interest projects to develop “collaborating centers” to design, test and disseminate public health prevention research strategies that align with national priorities. The collaborating centers’ projects will:

  • develop a personalized, internet-assisted patient education tool to self-manage epilepsy
  • address critical global public health problems such as chronic disease through a community participatory approach to health service delivery
  • address the health needs of minority, immigrant and low wage workers who are at increased risk for chronic diseases and injury through an evaluation of physical activity and injuries among home care aids
  • examine the role that zoning codes, land use, and SmartGrowth policies may play in facilitating walkable communities and walking
  • examine the impact of the Healthy Food Financing initiative on the local retail food environment in underserved communities.

Prevention Research Centers are committed to conducting prevention research and are leaders in translating research results into public health policies and practices that drive major, sustainable community changes that can prevent and control chronic diseases and improve overall health.