Across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support 25 university-based Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) that serve a vital role within the public health system by identifying new approaches to promote health and prevent disease. The Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and its Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center (RMPRC) will receive more than $3.7 million over the next five years to address the intergenerational transmission of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, household dysfunction by working with the school’s long-term partners and community leaders in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
PRCs address regional public health problems and develop, test, and evaluate public health interventions that can be applied widely, particularly in underserved communities.
Jenn Leiferman, PhD, director of the RMPRC and associate professor of community and behavioral health
“The Prevention Research Centers have long been leaders in carrying out and translating research to make a difference and improve the quality of life in our nation,” said Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. “This funding supports research that contributes to improved community and population health—research that is being led by the Colorado School of Public Health and the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center.”
RMPRC’s vision is that children and families across the Rocky Mountain region can attend schools and live in communities that optimize their health and wellbeing. The target of the RMPRC is adverse childhood experiences, or “ACEs”, which are modifiable risk factors that have a profound and lasting effect on a person’s health. Those long-term effects include increased risk of mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in adulthood.
“Our mission is to conduct community-engaged research within Colorado schools and communities to promote overall mental and physical health,” said Jenn Leiferman, PhD, director of the RMPRC and associate professor of community and behavioral health. “This funding from the CDC will allow us to work to reduce ACEs initially in the San Luis Valley of Colorado while we build a successful program that can be adopted by public health practitioners nationwide.”
To accomplish this, a community-engaged, stakeholder-driven, multi-level intervention, called STANCE (Systems To address ACES iN Childhood Early on), will include three primary public health components:
- A public health assessment of ACEs in the San Luis Valley for children aged zero to five and their primary caregivers;
- Implementation of an evidence-based program that promotes positive social-emotional development in 15 early childcare education settings with approximately 730 children; and
- A community-level social network analysis to leverage and strengthen the system of care to better meet the needs of children and families struggling with a high number of ACEs and their consequences.
Each PRC has a community advisory board or group that collaborates and gives community input to each center’s research effort. RMPRC has been working with the San Luis Valley Community Advisory Board since its establishment in 1998 to identify community needs and concerns, provide input on research design, implementation, evaluation and dissemination of local projects, and more.
“It is our belief that a systems-change approach that brings together preschools, community organizations, government agencies, policymakers, and researchers increases the chances for success for vulnerable children exposed to ACEs,” said Leiferman.
Research Needed to Improve Population Health
Nationwide, the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program funds a network of centers that each conduct at least one core research project with an underserved population that has a high rate of disease and disability. The centers also work with partners on Special Interest Projects funded by the CDC and other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies, and also on projects funded by other sources. As a result, the nationwide PRC Network conducts hundreds of projects each year.
All PRCs share the goal of addressing behaviors and environmental factors that lead to or worsen chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Several PRCs also address injury, infectious disease, mental health, and global health.
Each center conducts academic research with community partners in health departments, education agencies, and community organizations, and will often work together with other PRCs to address research gaps in cancer prevention and control, cognitive health, global health, physical activity policy, epilepsy management, nutrition and obesity policy, and workplace health. The variety of centers and community partners allows researchers to test strategies in many kinds of settings at the same time. Through scientific rigor, collaborative partnerships, and practical application, PRCs continue to find new ways to improve quality of life across the nation.