Exploring New Opportunities for Disparities Research in Chronic Disease Prevention

 workshop participants

More than 90 leading academic, research, clinical, and public health experts in community-based and chronic disease prevention efforts gathered at the Workshop on the Science of Prevention and Health Promotion to Address Health Disparities in March to discuss disparities in chronic disease prevention, with the goal to identify research gaps and opportunities for targeted initiatives.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) in collaboration with experts from other NIH Institutes and Centers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the extramural research community hosted the two-day workshop on the NIH campus where participants shared research findings and novel ideas.

In keeping with the workshop theme, "Preventing Disparities in Chronic Diseases: Community-Based Multilevel Interventions," sessions and panel discussions focused on excellence and innovations in current theoretical advances informing community-based multilevel interventions, innovative analytical and statistical methods, integration of advanced technology (e.g., big data, telemedicine) into health promotion and disease prevention, and private and public partnership to accelerate information dissemination.

Highlights of the scientific program included a keynote address by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin and presentations by NIH Associate Director for Prevention and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention (ODP) Dr. David M. Murray and former NIMHD Acting Director Dr. Yvonne T. Maddox on health disparities and chronic disease prevention.

"The first step to truly eliminate health disparities will require more than giving health insurance cards," said Dr. Benjamin, who served as the 18th U.S. surgeon general and is currently the NOLA.com/Times Picayune Endowed Chair of Public Health Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. "We must address the social determinants of health. I believe prevention is the answer. Health occurs where we live, learn, work and play. It’s in everything we do. Prevention provides the greatest opportunity to improve the health of families and to improve the healthcare system."

In her remarks, Dr. Maddox outlined the NIMHD vision for health disparities research that will utilize a multi-disciplinary systems approach across the life span that examines the contributing role of health determinants to health disparities; identifies research methodologies, measures, metrics, and big data collection, analysis and management; and includes a diverse biomedical workforce.

Dr. Murray shared the ODP Strategic Plan, which includes activities to strengthen existing programs and develop new initiatives to advance the prevention research agenda at the NIH and improve the public health over the next five years. The plan is centered around six strategic priorities that focus on systematically monitoring NIH investments in prevention research and assessing the progress and results of that research, improving research methods to support prevention research, identifying research gaps, promoting collaborative research, promoting and using evidence-based interventions, and communicating efforts and findings.

This scientific workshop was built on current science advances and research on population health and dynamics and explored:

  • Strategies for advancing chronic disease prevention efforts with a focus on two major strategies—early detection, surveillance and prevention of chronic disease and related morbidities; and public health programs and primary prevention research or target risk reduction interventions and health-threatening behaviors, such as smoking, illicit drug use and violence in populations experiencing health disparities;
  • Research needs and methodology appropriate for advancing a robust scientific chronic disease prevention enterprise focused on a science-based framework that includes a life course approach;
  • Challenges and complexities to alleviating the burden of chronic disease and related disparities in morbidity and mortality in population subgroups; and
  • Urgent research needs and priorities to address disparities in chronic disease prevention.

As discussed during the workshop, current science advances in developmental, biology, lifecourse science and environmental epigenetics expands one’s understanding of the possible etiologies of the origins and mechanisms of many diseases and conditions. The advances also build a persuasive case for reframing public health research efforts promoting health promotion and chronic disease prevention. Participants also explored public health interventions in reducing significant population-level burden of chronic morbidity and premature death. NIMHD will issue a white paper of the findings from the workshop.

Page updated Jan. 12, 2024