Bridging the Gap between Risk Prediction and Health Behavior

May 5, 2015

Erika A. Waters, PhD, MPH, recently received an R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health for a study titled “Communicating Multiple Disease Risks: A Translation of Risk Prediction Science.”

Associate Professor of Surgery, Division of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine

Dr. Waters and her team will test ways to help people understand the negative effects of physical inactivity on health. The goal is to provide personalized risk estimates for five chronic health conditions that result from not getting enough physical activity. One tool that she plans to test includes a smartphone app, developed for the Android platform, to help communicate these messages. To accomplish this she has assembled a project team that includes expertise from social psychology, health communications, epidemiology, biostatistics, visual design, and software development.

Of the study, Dr. Waters writes “Surprisingly few members of the public realize that insufficient physical activity can lead to a wide variety of negative health outcomes. This study will use established and effective risk communication strategies to optimize and test communication methods that help people understand these powerful effects. This understanding could affect their risk of multiple diseases, foster their motivation to get more physical activity, and eventually improve public health.”

The study will target high-risk populations, including minorities and people with less formal education, with the goal of contributing to the reduction of health disparities. The four-year study launched this spring and is still in the preliminary stages, but one aim of the project is to produce a fully-functional, scientifically-valid  risk assessment tool that inspires behavior change and could be applied to a variety of research, clinical, and public health settings.

Collaborators on the project include Drs. Ying Liu and Graham Colditz (WUSM), Dr. Bernard Rosner (Harvard), Mr. Hank Dart (WUSM), and Susan Gillham Design and Coolfire Solutions (St. Louis).