New NIH Research Program Targets Health Disparity, Chronic Disease

September 07, 2016 04:29 pm News Staff

Diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer are among the numerous chronic diseases and conditions that afflict many Americans -- but disproportionately affect certain disadvantaged people across the country.

[Female physician listening to teenage girl's heart]

To help address the relationship between health disparities and chronic disease in certain populations, including racial and ethnic minority groups, underserved rural patients, and economically and socially disadvantaged people, NIH has established a brand new research program.

Specifically, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) will oversee the Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers for Health Disparities Research on Chronic Disease Prevention program. This research initiative comprises two centers that will independently focus research efforts on the development, implementation and dissemination of community-based interventions to combat heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The two centers will share some $20 million during a five-year period if funding is approved.

According to an Aug. 24 NIH press release(, the new program will investigate a number of factors that affect a person's health, including family, community and health care systems.

As NIMHD Director Eliseo Pérez-Stable, M.D., noted, "Multilevel interventions that take into account complex interactions between individuals and their environments" could help address certain social determinants of health and ultimately enhance chronic disease prevention within local communities.

"Studies in these centers will add to our knowledge of what works in health disparities populations, thus advancing knowledge toward our nation's health," he added.

The work in both centers will rely on the cooperation of community organizations, academic institutions, clinicians, health care systems, and state and local public health agencies.

The NIH release noted specific examples of inequalities in health care among groups of Americans. For instance, women from poor, low-income and middle-income households are less likely to get a screening mammogram than women from high-income households.

Hypertension is less prevalent and, when present, better controlled in patients who are white compared with those who are black or Latino. And obesity rates also are more prevalent in those two minority groups.

Two projects, one at Washington State University in Pullman and the other at Michigan State University in East Lansing, already have signed on for four-year commitments.

The Washington-based project will focus on control of hypertension among American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

The project in Michigan aims to improve physical activity and healthy food consumption among people living in the Flint area.

The AAFP has long supported health equity and the attainment of the highest level of health for all people.

An AAFP policy on health equity adopted by the Board of Directors in December 2015 notes that a person's health is measured by more than simply the absence of disease.

According to the policy statement, "Family physicians promote health equity by considering the balance of social determinants that impact the health of an individual, family, community, population and environment.

"Family physicians can mitigate health inequity by collaborating with government, business, and health and social service providers to effect positive change for the populations they serve."

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