August 27, 2008

 “An important goal of my research is to addresses disparities in health,”  says Laura Linnan, Sc.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, at UNC-CH School of Public Health. Dr. Linnan is interested in understanding why people are suffering disproportionately from major chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, and how to best develop and test interventions that will eliminate disparities in health. She believes that the places where people live, work, and play have an important influence on their health and life chances, so that working collaboratively with people inthese familiar settings is a useful public health intervention strategy. Her past projects have included, “North Carolina BEAUTY and Health Study: Bringing Education and Understanding to You”, “Barbers Trimming Risk in Men” (TRIM), Cancer Understanding Today (CUTS) and most recently the “North CarolinaWAY to Health” Study: Worksite Activities for You”. The BEAUTY, TRIM and CUTS studies provide training for licensed cosmetologists (hair stylists) and barbers that they can relay to their clients. The goal of these programs is to educate individuals about health issues in settings where they attend regularly, have a trusted relationship, and feel comfortable. More than two-thirds of US adults are employed, and they spend a significant amount of waking hours at work. In North Carolina, nearly 65% of adults are obese and more than $2 billion annually in spent on medical costs attributable to this epidemic. Employer- provided health insurance pays for a significant proportion of those costs. However, national evidence suggests that only 16% of employers are offering any type of obesity management programs for their employees. As a result, Linnan’s research team is collaborating with fourteen colleges/universities in North Carolina, and their employees, to test the effectiveness of several different methods that will help employees lose weight and keep it off, including a state of the science web-based weight loss program developed by Dr. Deborah Tate, Assistant Professor in HBHE and Nutrition, and cash incentives linked to weight loss. All participating worksites will receive technical assistance and support from the research team to develop employee wellness committees and implement a strategic planning process for worksite wellness that will benefit all employees.  “The goal of the WAY to Health research study is to identify cost-effective interventions that can be easily disseminated to employees and a wide range of employers,” Dr. Linnan says, “If we can achieve this goal, we can help address one of the most serious public health threats we face in North Carolina and nationally.”





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