PRC funding will target Sumter County residents suffering from alarming health statistics

September 16, 2010

Steve Hooker

Dr. Steve Hooker is
director of USC’s
Prevention Research Center.

The University of South Carolina’s Prevention Research Center (USC PRC) at the Arnold School of Public Health has received $4.9 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue funding for the next five years.

The center’s funding is part of a banner year in USC’s extramural research awards, which reached $218.8 million in fiscal year 2010 (ending June 30).

The money will enable the USC PRC to continue and expand work with its community partners, Sumter County Recreation and Park Department and Sumter County Active Lifestyles (SCAL). As a coalition, SCAL comprises more than 30 members who are focused on improving policies, environments, and programs to promote active lifestyles among Sumter County residents.

For the next five years, the USC PRC will assess the effectiveness of the effort that involves a high proportion of residents living in underserved areas of the city and county, including those in rural locations, said Dr. Steven Hooker, center director.

SCAL’s origins date back to 2003 when it became alarmingly clear that Sumter County residents were suffering from higher mortality rates from cancers and diabetes compared with state and national averages. Poor dietary habits and a lack of regular physical activity were identified as key factors behind the dismal statistics.

With the close cooperation of community leaders, SCAL has succeeded in helping to bring about several policy and environmental changes and implementing a variety of programs to increase walking, biking, and other forms of physical activity.

Cycling and walking trails were identified and improved, and groups of residents participated in walking interventions and outreach efforts launched to identify and assist communities with limited resources for physical activity. Efforts are under way to expand walking interventions to more areas of Sumter County to link residents with walking trails and parks that have been installed and improved over the past five years.

“It has been strongly recommended that, to overcome barriers to being active, a person must have a supportive environment in which to be active. This includes attractive and safe places to walk, bike, and play,” Hooker said.

“This also includes support from peers and family members, as well as programs that people feel comfortable participating in. Our project over the next five years will determine if having all of these pieces in place will result in more physical activity among residents of underserved communities in Sumter County,” he said.

A new effort, the Community Advocacy and Leadership Program (CALP), was begun last October. Its aim is to teach local residents about leadership, teambuilding, leadership development, grant writing, and other skills that will enable them to advocate for and make positive changes in their neighborhoods. Over time, plans are to find sponsors that will support replication of the CALP program in other S.C. counties.

“We want to help the residents of neighborhoods have skills and feel confident in communicating with their community leaders about resources and changes needed to make their surroundings more activity-friendly,” Hooker said. “When that is accomplished, then the residents themselves can take more pride in their neighborhoods and bring about a process that promotes health and well-being for the community as a whole.”

Operating under the wing of the Arnold School of Public Health, the USC PRC is one of 37 prevention research centers across the United States that engage in community-based research projects that promote health and prevent disease.

Since 2004, the USC PRC has been awarded $11.7 million in grants and contracts. More than 96 percent of this new funding is related to the center’s theme, ”Promoting Health through Physical Activity.”

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