Research Areas – Draft

InCHIP principal investigators (PIs) conduct research related to health behavior, health risk behavior, and health behavior change across a range of academic disciplines and health domains. Since the formation of InCHIP in FY02, InCHIP PIs have successfully secured research grants totaling more than $94.4 million to study the dynamics of health behavior and health risk behavior within specific populations and to develop interventions to reduce risk behaviors and support healthy behaviors.

As of September 2013, InCHIP has $50.1 million in active grants in the following health domains:

InCHIP’s alcohol and substance use research includes, but is not limited to, the development and application of risk reduction interventions for HIV-positive or at-risk populations (e.g., intravenous drug users), college students engaging in hazardous drinking episodes, and adolescents at risk for substance use through exposures to smoking and alcohol cues in mass media. An additional example of InCHIP’s substance use research is our analytic work evaluating the influence of tobacco products’ graphic warning labels on the tobacco use patterns of target populations (e.g., youth and pregnant women).

InCHIP’s autism research addresses several critical topics in the field, from early detection to novel interventions to parental training. A recent example of a study in this area is one titled “Teaching Skills to Toddlers: A Program for Caregivers”, which administers a video-enriched teaching program to parents of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). This training package delivers high quality, user-friendly instruction in basic behavioral and developmental principles of ASDs, and illustrates applications of evidence-based practices as effective supplements to early intervention and children’s at-home therapies.

InCHIP’s cancer research focuses on quality-of-life issues for cancer survivors and on interventions to address survivors’ heightened risk for cancer reoccurrence, second primary cancers, and other diseases. Target populations for this research span many demographic backgrounds and have included individuals of varied age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Some of the collaborative work in this area has applied social psychological theory to interventions for UV protection, or examined psychological and behavioral predictors of HPV vaccination completion in African-American and Native American women, as examples.

Research Scientist and Associate Director of InCHIP, Deborah Cornman, Ph.D., chairs the multidisciplinary Cancer Research Interest Group (Cancer RIG) at InCHIP. The Cancer RIG aims to expand upon InCHIP’s successful research on survivorship to include the entire cancer control continuum, provide a forum for UConn cancer researchers to increase research opportunities and external grant funding, and foster funded collaborative cancer control research across the Storrs and UConn Health campuses. For more information on InCHIP’s Cancer RIG, please visit our Research Interest Groups page. To join the Cancer Research Interest Group, contact Dr. Deborah Cornman at deborah.cornman@chip.uconn.edu.

Examples of InCHIP’s research in complementary and alternative approaches to medicine includes the development of a translational tool that allows researchers to explicitly describe and compare yoga interventions, as well as determine appropriate control groups in clinical trials of such interventions. InCHIP’s alternative therapy researchers investigate the physical and mental health benefits of yoga and have examined the relationship between religiousness/spirituality and physical health in congestive heart failure patients.

InCHIP’s work in diabetes research has included the development, implementation, and evaluation of theory-driven diabetes self-care interventions, as well as the complete translation of a proven, intensive lifestyle intervention to a practical, virtual clinical intervention for overweight adults with Type 2 Diabetes. InCHIP researchers are currently working to increase engagement of community pharmacists in the provision of medication and self-management techniques for adults with high blood pressure and diabetes. By identifying, engaging, and training pharmacists to provide medication therapy management, this intervention seeks to extend the applicability of healthcare in the community.

InCHIP’s work in digital health is broadly focused to include electronic and mobile health research. Investigators capitalize on the use of mobile technologies, social media, web-based interventions, sensors, and other means to assess and modify target health behaviors. InCHIP is also home to Bio-CHIP, the first academic center of its kind worldwide to develop and apply biosensor-based eHealth technologies.

InCHIP’s dissemination and implementation research recognizes the increasingly worrying gap between research and practice, and is designed to advance the dissemination and implementation (D&I) of evidence-based practices in health promotion and disease prevention interventions. For example, a recent study led by InCHIP researchers combined a self-sustaining statewide weight loss program with effective behavioral weight control strategies (e.g., weekly multi-media behavioral lessons, computer generated individualized feedback) to improve weight loss outcomes among participants. For more information on D&I practices, please explore the web-based resources listed below. These resources include fact sheets about UConn-developed dissemination-ready health innovations, measurement instruments, archived lecture materials, and the “D&I Measurement Compendium.” The Compendium is a white paper written by InCHIP researchers that provides investigators with a synthesis of validated measurement tools designed to assess D&I-related constructs.

InCHIP’s research in exercise science, spearheaded largely by investigators from UConn’s top-ranked Kinesiology Department, has historically covered a broad range of topics such as: Exercise genomics, or the study of how genetic variation can mediate the effects of exercise on health outcomes; the effects of statins (a class of cholesterol-lowering drug) on muscle function; exercise interventions to reduce the frequency and severity of hazardous drinking episodes among college students, adults with alcohol disorders, and drug abusers; aftereffects of exercise on blood pressure and vascular function; effects of whey protein ingestion on the body’s response to resistance training; and more.

About 15% of active InCHIP grants in FY15 involved health behavior change interventions designed or adapted for sustainability around the world. InCHIP has currently funded or completed projects in Albania, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Malaysia, Mozambique, South Africa, Russia, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, and Vietnam. InCHIP’s research portfolio in Africa is especially robust, comprising approximately $24.7 million in active grants across all years since FY02. Much of this work is in the core problem area of HIV/AIDS, although select examples of research in other health areas include a recent line of autism research studies in Albania and a completed health communication campaign study evaluated for effectiveness in several developing countries across the globe.

InCHIP’s work in ameliorating health disparity outcomes includes mentoring scholars from under-represented racial and ethnic backgrounds in community-based HIV research, studying the cultural contexts of health disparities among adolescents, addressing childhood obesity in African-American and Latino youth, and exploring HPV vaccine completion outcomes across demographic backgrounds.

Additionally, Health Psychologists and Research Professors of Psychology Rick Gibbons, Ph.D., and Meg Gerrard, Ph.D., have been conducting The Family and Community Health Study (FACHS), a longitudinal study of psychosocial factors related to the physical and mental health of African-American families, for more than 15 years. The largest study of its kind in the U.S. to date, FACHS began with 900 families and has followed them across six waves, with a special focus on the adolescents who were age 10 at Wave 1 (age 26 at Wave 6) and their parents. An ongoing study, FACHS examines the impact of stressors, such as racial discrimination, environmental risk, and low socioeconomic status (SES), as well as buffers, such as racial socialization and racial identity, on outcomes including substance abuse, obesity, and disease, as well as safe sex, nutrition, and exercise habits.

Much of InCHIP’s work has been conducted in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment research, where InCHIP has its roots. Key areas of focus include understanding the dynamics of HIV risk behavior (e.g., the mediating effects of sexual partner selection, alcohol and other drugs, or food insecurity), creating practical prevention and treatment adherence interventions for at-risk HIV uninfected and HIV-positive populations (e.g., cell phone-delivered counseling), and promoting theoretical and meta-analytic work of existing HIV-related knowledge structures (e.g., attitudes about condom use and sexual risk) and interventions to determine efficacy and behavior change outcomes.

Of particular note, three InCHIP interventions are included in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Compendium of Evidence-Based HIV Behavioral Interventions, which lists the premier interventions developed, implemented, and evaluated in the country to date. They include:

  • Healthy Relationships, a multi-session, group-level HIV risk reduction intervention for people living with HIV (PLWH), which is one of the most widely disseminated HIV prevention interventions in the world.
  • NIA: A Program of Purpose, a video-based, skill-building, small group prevention intervention for heterosexual African-American men living in urban areas.
  • Options/Opciones Project, a healthcare provider-delivered prevention intervention for PLWH who are in clinical care, which has been disseminated broadly throughout the U.S. and Africa since its development in 2000.

Not included in the CDC Compendium, but demonstrated to be effective and disseminated globally in China, Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the U.S., is the InCHIP-led Peer-Driven Intervention that seeks to reduce HIV transmission rates among intravenous drug users by recruiting active users as educators to their peers in HIV prevention interventions and by recruiting peers to attend enhanced HIV prevention services.

InCHIP’s obesity research seeks multilevel approaches to evaluate and change the individual, social, and environmental factors contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic. Since the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has come to UConn, there has been increased work examining public health policies which affect consumer levels of obesity. Examples of obesity research projects include working with parents and pediatricians to address childhood obesity, studying the cultural contexts of health disparities among adolescents, involving spouses or parents in weight loss efforts, and analyzing the impact of food advertisements and public service announcements (PSAs) on child and teen eating habits and weight. Other key projects include the Healthy Food Environments Initiative at UConn, which promotes community-wide approaches to prevent obesity and increase food security through healthy food environments and increased physical activity, and the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace (CPH-NEW) at the UConn Health Center, which designs multifaceted health promotion interventions to improve worker health.

InCHIP Associate Director and Clinical Psychologist Amy Gorin, Ph.D., chairs InCHIP’s Obesity Research Interest Group (ORIG) which brings together researchers and stakeholders from the greater Connecticut community who share a common interest in understanding, preventing, and treating obesity and related co-morbidities. To find more information about InCHIP’s ORIG, please visit our Research Interest Groups page.

Research in school and child health leverages the links between health and education, and engages a collaborative and coordinated approach to improve child outcomes.

School and child health researchers acknowledge the complex and interrelated contributors to child well-being across multiple systems and disciplines. An ecological systems framework guides the work. This ecological lens reflects and values the role and influence of cultural context, healthcare disparities, and social determinants of health on child outcomes.

Research and engaged scholarship in school and child health informs coordinated policy, processes, and practices connected with the 10 components of coordinated school health as shown in Table 1.

 
Table 1. 10 Components in a
Coordinated School Health Model
 
Community involvement
Counseling, psychological, and social services
Employee wellness
Family engagement
Health education
Health services
Nutrition environment and services
Physical education and physical activity
Physical environment
Social and emotional climate

InCHIP’s research on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexual risk behaviors includes the development and evaluation of interventions for pregnancy prevention, the reproductive health of people living with HIV, and the enhancement of partner notification practices around potential HIV/STI exposure. InCHIP researchers have also conducted meta-analyses of existing safer sex interventions and family planning campaigns and used virtual reality technology to measure emotion-based reactions to condoms.

InCHIP’s work in treatment adherence and retention in care includes the application of technological interventions (e.g., cell phone-delivered HIV medication adherence counseling) and interventions to promote consistent and early adherence to treatment regimens (e.g., an intervention to promote retention in care and medication adherence during the first year of HIV treatment). Historically, target populations in this research area have included, but are not limited to, men who have sex with men (MSM), individuals with poor literacy skills, and recently released prisoners transitioning back into the community.