Faculty Scholar in the News News Center for Dissemination & Implementation Chronic Disease

Can digital health tools help lower cancer risk in rural communities?

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

The Center for Dissemination & Implementation at the Institute for Public Health continues to fund research projects that focus on improving the dissemination and implementation of health interventions. The center’s latest award, co-funded by the Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control, goes to a project aimed at implementing a new digital tool to help reduce cancer risks in rural Missouri.

Kansas Road Scene West on I-70 from Abilene

Research: Rural-urban disparities are at the forefront of national conversations on health disparities. This is due to the widening difference in cancer burden and a 20% higher death rate among rural compared to urban residents.

Funded Project: Adapting and Implementing a Novel Digital Health Tool to Promote Behavior Change and Improve Cancer Risk in Rural Missouri   

Primary Investigator: Maura Kepper, PhD, MPH, research assistant professor at the Brown School and Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar


Ross Brownson, PhD, the Steven H. and Susan U. Lipstein Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the Brown School and School of Medicine

Randi Foraker, PhD, associate professor in General Medical Sciences, director of the Public Health Data & Training Center at the Institute for Public Health, and a center director at WashU’s Institute for Informatics

Lisa Klesges, PhD, professor of surgery in Public Health Sciences

Peg Allen, PhD, assistant professor at the Prevention Research Center and the Brown School

Kia Davis, ScD, MPH, assistant professor of surgery in Public Health Sciences

Summary: Promoting physical activity and healthy food intake in patient-centered ways is key to reducing cancer risk in rural areas. To help high risk, rural, low-income patients achieve a healthy lifestyle; health-care teams can connect patients with resources that address food insecurity and other social needs. This project adapts a new digital health tool called PREVENT to do this in rural communities in order to improve health care quality. PREVENT works by providing tailored physical activity and food intake goals and offering resources and the support of community health workers to help patients overcome barriers to healthy behaviors.

Because low-income residents in rural areas often face greater barriers to achieving healthy behaviors and reduced cancer risk, it is critical that we provide care tailored to their needs. Digital tools have the ability to support health care teams in delivering targeted behavior counseling and other necessary resources for sustaining good health.

Maura Kepper, primary investigator

Funding will help engage rural patients and health care teams to adapt a new digital health tool. This project will result in a replicable digital health model for improving the quality of health behavior counseling, with the potential to improve cancer control and health equity in underserved rural communities. 

Pilot grants from the Center for Dissemination and Implementation at the Institute for Public Health are awarded annually beginning with a call for applications in February. Learn more about center funding opportunities.

The Center for Dissemination and Implementation advances the growing body of dissemination & implementation research methods by building training opportunities and catalyzing newly applied D&I research across health specialties. The center also aims to ensure that the most effective services are delivered in clinical and public health settings.