Author: Chris Tarricone

CHIP’s Innovation in Health Research Fund

For over a decade, world renowned researchers at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) have worked at the intersection of behavior and biology to promote wellness and improve the health of individuals, families, and communities in Connecticut and across the world. Past CHIP research has saved a significant number of lives. The intent of CHIP’s Innovation in Health Research Fund is to support cutting-edge research consistent with CHIP’s mission to create new scientific knowledge and theoretical frameworks in the areas of health behavior, health behavior change, health intervention, and prevention at multiple levels of analysis. Funds will be used to move innovative ideas and interdisciplinary partnerships forward and facilitate progress in understanding and addressing the most pressing public health issues of the 21st century such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and obesity, and in the development of state-of-the-science health promotion interventions, tools, and policies. Invest in the next decade of CHIP research and support researchers committed to providing evidence-based solutions to complex physical and mental health problems.

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2015 CHIP Annual Meeting PowerPoint Slides

It is our distinct pleasure to offer a copy of the slides from our 2015 Annual meeting. Please click on the title to download the PowerPoint Presentation. CHIP serves as a nexus for investigators at the University of Connecticut and other institutions to stimulate collaborative partnerships for the development of major research initiatives in health behavior change.

CHIP’s FY2015 Annual Report is Now Online

CHIP’s FY15 Annual Report covers the period from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. During FY15, the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) made significant progress towards its mission of creating and disseminating new scientific knowledge and theoretical frameworks in the areas of health behavior, health behavior change, health intervention, and prevention at multiple levels of analysis. The Center focused this year on catalyzing new multidisciplinary research and collaboration in the areas of mental health, pediatric health, obesity prevention, cancer control and prevention, electronic and mobile health (eHealth/mHealth), and policy-relevant research in order to strengthen these areas, while continuing to perform strongly in other areas (e.g., HIV/AIDS, exercise science, global health, and treatment adherence and retention in care). CHIP also continued to provide extremely high quality resources and support to its affiliated researchers and to expand its reach to provide resources to other investigators throughout the University via the organization of innovative university-wide events. These included a CHIP/School of Engineering networking event, a cross-campus dual-PI seed grant program with the Department of Psychiatry at the UConn School of Medicine, a dual-PI seed grant program with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and accompanying networking events for both dual-PI seed grant programs. Overall, this was a year of expansion and growth for CHIP in a number of critical domains and programmatic offerings.

Biostatistician’s research works toward personalized medicine

For Tania Huedo-Medina, who was born and raised in Spain, moving to Connecticut in 2006 meant leaving behind warmer weather and fresher foods, but it also meant a new opportunity to engage in high-impact research at UConn. Huedo-Medina, an assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences (AHS), is is a biostatistician who develops and applies statistical techniques that identify variables and interactions between them that make health-related treatments and prevention interventions effective in reducing disease. She hopes her results will allow medical experts to tailor prevention and treatments to individuals. Huedo-Medina has worked with dozens of health researchers at UConn and is a major resource for those on campus seeking statistical expertise on health-related issues.

In Spain, Huedo-Medina earned her BS in psychology from the University of Murcia and her MS and PhD in biostatistics from a combined program between three Madrid universities, Complutense, Autonoma and UNED. In 2006, she was appointed postdoctoral fellow at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), and three years later she was appointed research associate. Currently, as assistant professor in AHS, Huedo-Medina is also director of the Synthesis of Individual Participant Evidence Data (SIPED) Lab, where she works with undergraduate and graduate students and collaborates with faculty in the Departments of Allied Health Sciences, Psychology, Statistics, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences and other health-related disciplines across the University; at the UConn Health Center; and with other universities nationally and internationally. She believes that “if you want to do research, you need to have a strong, supportive network,” something she was able to easily build at UConn. She adds that this kind of research opportunity, “I cannot imagine . . .  in Spain, unfortunately.”

With her collaborators, Huedo-Medina applies statistical methods such as meta-analysis, causality and multilevel modeling to learn about the success of health promotion interventions and treatments of chronic diseases. Meta-analysis is a methodology that combines results from different clinical studies to obtain an evidence-based and more accurate estimate of a treatment’s effectiveness and has the potential to explain health diversity. She develops causal models to analyze, for example, possible biological mediators between environmental or lifestyle characteristics and the onset of improvement of a disease. Multilevel modeling identifies correlations within related groups or over time and helps Huedo-Medina understand why treatments work similarly within the same family, the same region or other possible clusters.  She applies these methods to a variety of health-related topics, focusing on, among other chronic diseases, HIV and celiac disease.  She and her collaborators build models that identify which behavioral, environmental and/or biological differences between individuals, including genomics, metabolemics and microbiome, make treatments and/or health promotion interventions successful for some and less so for others.

Consider one of Huedo-Medina’s many research interests: the effects of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease. Huedo-Medina says that researchers “know that [the diet] is very beneficial, but for whom, and when and how much?” Many meta-analyses of the diet’s effects have been published, but they often don’t meet well-accepted standards of data credibility, don’t use appropriate statistical techniques and don’t disclose full methodological characteristics. She and other researchers conducted an “‘up-to-code” study, which revealed that, among other factors, if a Mediterranean diet is conducted as a long-term intervention, as a supervised program, including self-monitoring and social support from other participants, participants are less likely to develop a cardiovascular disease. This Mediterranean diet, Huedo-Medina points out, is “more like a lifestyle” than a short-term intervention.

Huedo-Medina believes this kind of lifestyle approach, where nor only the individual’s behavior but biology and environment for the long term are considered, is effective in preventing other autoimmune and nutrition-related problems, like celiac disease and obesity. Her future research goal is to create personalized models that predict these and related conditions in individuals. She will do this by integrating environmental, behavioral and biological data into her models. Multi-sourced data can indicate why two people who have the same health behaviors but slightly different genomes may have wildly different health-related problems. “You are not exactly the same as me. Everything that works for you (that could be healthy) may not work for me,” she says. Medical practitioners can use these models to identify the variables that make one patient different from another and design a prevention and/or treatment tailored to that patient within his or her community. This approach is called personalized medicine. Huedo-Medina believes that using statistical techniques to learn about individuals’ characteristics and environments are crucial in making personalized medicine more effective.

Huedo-Medina’s work has always been personal for her, too. Health is an important value in her family and her dream since since she was a child has been to bring to all the possibility of health. She says that as a child in Spain, she first realized what it meant to be healthy. On a child’s birthday, “the wish that you always want to ask for is to be healthy. If you are not healthy, you cannot work, you cannot fall in love, you cannot write. If you have your health, you can try to make any dream come true.” When she moved to Connecticut in 2006, these lessons didn’t stay behind. In many ways,  Huedo Medina’s dedication to her research in biostatistics and personalized medicine constantly takes her back home and reminds her of the importance of taking care of one’s health and reducing health disparities.

Members of Huedo-Medina’s lab group include undergraduate student Katie Feeney and Ali Corso and graduate students Xiaoran Li, David Dayya, Julia Shook, Nusrat Habib and Marisa Creature.


CHIP PI Named Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor

CHIP PI Blair T. Johnson recently was promoted to the rank of UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in Psychology at the March, 2015, Board of Trustees meeting.  This honor represents the highest level of faculty achievement at the university and is awarded to those with demonstrated excellence in research, teaching, and service.

Dr. Johnson is an international figure in the area of meta-analysis, particularly as related to health promotion.  He received the CLAS Excellence in Research Award in 2013 based on his work in the five years preceding that point. His achievements have been recognized many times by his peers. Currently, he is serving as a Senior Editor of the journal Social Science & Medicine and also as Associate Director of the newly-funded UConn Evidence-based Practice Center of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Read more in the UConn Today article about it.

Public Policy Must Address Obesity, and Local Governments are Taking the Lead

Current rates of obesity and poor diet in the United States cannot be sustained. A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute examined the economic costs of obesity and concluded that obesity rates have reached “crisis proportions.” Two-thirds of adults and one out of every three children under age 18 are overweight, triple the rate 40 years ago. The consequences are devastating. Diet-related diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, once affected only adults but now are increasingly common in children. U.S. healthcare costs associated with obesity total $190 billion annually, $14 billion of that devoted to caring for children. Once a child becomes obese, he or she is likely to suffer from obesity for life. As a result, today’s children may be the first generation to live fewer years than their parents.

Tipping the Scales on Obesity

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in three children in the United States are obese or overweight, to the detriment of their health and well-being in both the short and the long-term.

In January, UConn experts on obesity, nutrition, public policy, psychology, agriculture, and economics will be joined by faculty from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, to conduct and collaborate on research that addresses the nationwide problem of obesity.

Gaming Safer Sex

UConn interactive digital media expert John Christensen has brought to life a virtual world with artificially intelligent characters so realistic, engaging, and compassionate, they have accomplished something that, to date, in-person health behavior-change interventions have not.

World AIDS Day, December 1st: “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation

Monday, December 1st is World AIDS Day. This year’s theme is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation”.

Many of CHIP’s researchers have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of those with HIV/AIDS and preventing its spread. Our researchers have engaged in AIDS research across the world, including in in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world.

The AIDS epidemic is not over. Today we acknowledge the hard work and important progress that has been made towards controlling the global AIDS epidemic, while understanding the need for continued action towards reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is still a huge barrier to improvements in health and global development. Across the world, more than 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, 3.2 million of whom are children.

To learn more about the importance of year’s theme, view the following message from Dr. Ron Valdiserri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Infectious Diseases, and Director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

For more information and ideas about what you can do this World AIDS Day, please visit: .

Small Cash Rewards Pay Off in Weight Loss Plans

People who received small cash bonuses for their degree of participation in an Internet weight loss program shed more pounds than those who were not offered bonuses and they kept much of the weight off, according to a new study out of the University of Connecticut.

The findings, published this month in Obesity, could help employers evaluate the incentives they offer for healthy behavior with an eye toward reducing overall health insurance costs. More than 67 percent of large employers currently use some form of financial incentives.