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ETSU researchers present findings on region's health

TERESA HICKS • Mar 5, 2007 at 11:21 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Researchers at East Tennessee State University presented findings Thursday afternoon from recent studies of health issues in Appalachia, spanning topics from childhood obesity to domestic violence.

The studies were sponsored by the Appalachian Center for Translational Research in Disparities (ACTRID), a program that seeks to identify and address health disparities in the Appalachian region.

"If you look at the health status data for people in our region, we are among the unhealthiest people in the country. And some of the data that's been produced through this project and other ones really shows that clearly in diabetes, in cardiovascular, in cancer, smoking rates - you name it," said Joellen Edwards, professor of family and community nursing at ETSU and director of ACTRID.

ACTRID is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities. The program is in the third year of what will be a four-year grant period.

The five projects presented Thursday are the first to be completed through ACTRID.

"There are seven more that are going on right now, and today we're receiving applications to fund four or five more," said Edwards.

One presentation came from Dr. Karen Schetzina, assistant professor of pediatrics at ETSU, who reported on the Coordinated School Health Program at Boones Creek Elementary School.

The program, developed with help from ETSU, Mountain States Health Alliance and Tennessee on the Move, among others, focuses on teaching kids about exercise and nutrition, with a goal of helping them to embrace a healthy lifestyle at a young age. Schetzina's work evaluated the impact of the program on students and teachers.

"Based on feedback from the principals and teachers, they all seem to feel that it's a success, both in making kids have healthier lifestyles, and anecdotally I think they feel like it's really helped kids perform better in school. It has helped with behavior in the classroom, and clearly they're doing an excellent job of educating their students there," Schetzina said.

Her study found that students at Boones Creek were getting more exercise and eating more healthful foods as a result of the program, and that teachers enjoyed improved health status as well, all without compromising academic excellence.

Other ACTRID programs presented Thursday included a study by Dr. Tiejian Wu on how parents and pediatricians can work together to reduce childhood obesity and a study by Dr. Beth Bailey on the relationship between smoking, domestic violence and pregnancy in Appalachia.

"(Bailey) has gotten such unique results from this study that she was asked to submit a proposal and was awarded a $1.4 million grant to do a six-county intervention program on smoking cessation for pregnant women," Edwards said. "It will have a huge, huge influence on maternal and newborn health in our corner of the state."

Edwards believes the ACTRID program has been a great asset not only for the university but for the community as well.

"I think it's been very successful in terms of being able to stimulate the research and being able to be much more active in the community than we ever could have been without the grant funding," she said. "We've always hooked our research into the communities. This grant just made it much more explicit and more visible. I think it's part of the whole package of education and research and serving the region that we're very committed to here."

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