ALBANY — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the Emory Prevention Research Center $5.1 million in a five-year grant to continue its work to prevent cancer in rural Georgia by curbing obesity and exploring ways to increase vaccination rates against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The new grant award will enable the EPRC, housed at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, to continue its research partnership with Horizons Community Solutions, formerly the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia, that began in 2004.

The EPRC’s principal investigator, Michelle Kegler, said the obesity epidemic continues to worsen, with low-income and rural populations, as well as African-American women, disproportionately affected. The new program will focus on those at risk across Georgia.

“Working with Horizons Community Solutions and other southwest Georgia partners, the EPRC developed and rigorously tested a successful intervention called Healthy Homes/Healthy Families,” Kegler said in a news release announcing the grant. “The program was designed to create home food environments that support healthy eating and weight gain prevention.”

She added that part of the grant will support the EPRC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network. The network will focus on translating proven cancer prevention programs to the local level, including a project designed to increase HPV vaccination rates in health clinics and community organizations.

Kimberly Scott, Horizons’ vice president for community health, will help coordinate the effort in southwest Georgia, including maintaining and convening a 15-member community advisory board to provide guidance on the local research efforts.

“For many years, our region has benefited from the EPRC’s expertise, collaborative spirit, and responsiveness to input from our community partners,” Scott said. “Our joint efforts have been successful, largely due to our shared understanding of the culture, preferences and needs of our communities.”

The Healthy Homes/Healthy Families program will be carried out by health coaches trained by the EPRC to deliver the program through a series of telephone calls and mailings. Scott said the health coach responsible for serving southwest Georgians will be employed by Horizons Community Solutions and stationed at its headquarters in Albany. The research will focus on distributing the obesity-prevention program through the United Way of Southwest Georgia’s 2-1-1 resource and referral system.

Shaunae Motley, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Georgia said its 2-1-1 system will recruit local residents who wish to participate in the program.

“Working toward a healthier community is important to the United Way’s mission, and this is an excellent opportunity to share an important resource with those we serve,” Motley said. She explained that other United Way 2-1-1 services will help recruit program participants in other areas of the state.

2-1-1 is a nationally designated telephone exchange, similar to 9-1-1, that links callers to community-based health and social services, Kegler explained, adding that callers to 2-1-1 are often seeking various types of assistance with daily living, such as help with paying utility bills. She said the EPRC will test the program’s impact on dietary behaviors that influence weight gain, as well as the impact and cost effectiveness of disseminating the program throughout the state through the 2-1-1 network.

Horizons Community Solutions is a regional, nonprofit organization headquartered in Albany and serving more than 32 counties across south Georgia and beyond. Its mission is to strengthen communities and empower people to lead healthy and productive lives.

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