CDC invests in preventative health care for Hispanics at home and in Latin America

The Prevention Research Center (PRC) in St. Louis is launching a multinational research project focused on preventing the leading causes of death in Hispanics in the United States and Latin America.

The PRC in St. Louis, a collaboration between Washington University and Saint Louis University, will conduct a four-year, $2.8 million effort to apply and adapt evidence-based strategies for preventing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity in the United States, Mexico and Brazil. It is working with a PRC site in San Diego, which will lead a project in Mexico.

“By understanding strategies for physical activity promotion that work in Latin America, we will be better able to address the needs and preferences of Hispanic populations in the United States,” says Ross C. Brownson, Ph.D., project director and a professor at Washington University’s School of Medicine and the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. “Based on results from an earlier study, ‘public gym’ programs in Brazil are being used as models in communities with Hispanic populations in San Diego. With this project, we hope to expand our knowledge on how best to reach these groups in other U.S. locations.”

The research project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

In a previous phase of this project in St. Louis, PRC researchers evaluated evidence from physical activity interventions carried out in community settings in Recife, Brazil. Physical education instructors taught free calisthenic and dance classes in public spaces, led walking groups and provided nutrition information. Scientists determined that the project greatly increased physical activity among community members.

Chronic diseases are a growing challenge for public health in Latin America and globally. In Brazil, chronic diseases such as heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure are the leading causes of mortality, generating premature deaths and significant economic burden. Chronic diseases account for 72 percent of deaths annually in Brazil, Brownson says.

Despite being the largest economy in Latin America and in the top 10 globally, Brazil is a country with the greatest social and health inequalities in Latin America, Brownson added. It is estimated that by 2015, the country will lose 10 million people and $49 billion dollars due to premature deaths related to chronic disease.

In the current phase of the project, researchers will disseminate results from the previous study to communities, institutions, and public health professionals in Brazil and across Latin America. This phase may include teaching school administrators and public health and medical professionals the latest approaches to physical activity. The researchers also will evaluate innovative exercise programs in schools and parks in Brazil.

“We hope this new program will build on what we have already learned,” says Brownson, also a faculty scholar of Washington University’s Institute for Public Health. “Coupled with healthy eating, physical activity can help prevent and control diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, resulting in improved quality of life and health.”

The PRC in St. Louis’ mission is to prevent chronic diseases and improve population health by adapting, implementing, evaluating and disseminating evidence-based interventions. Key PRC partners include the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, community-based coalitions addressing chronic disease prevention in rural Missouri and a variety of academic collaborators. For this multinational project in Brazil, the main partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Federal University of Sao Paulo, the Ministry of Health from Brazil, the Pan American Health Organization, CELAFISCS and several universities in Brazil.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Accredited for 18 years, Saint Louis University School of Public Health remains the only accredited school of public health in Missouri. It is one of 40 fully accredited public health schools in the U.S. and the only accredited Jesuit school in the nation.