Researchers Forge Relationship with Texas AgriLife to Study Health Promotion in Rural Texas

AUSTIN, Texas – A team of researchers in the Center for Social Work Research at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work will embark on three new evaluations of health promotion projects with Texas AgriLife.

Researchers Catherine Cubbin, Ph.D., Holly Bell, Ph.D., LCSW, and Megan Scarborough are following up on their successful collaboration with Texas A & M University’s AgriLife Extension on the “Texas Putting Prevention to Work” project. “Texas Putting Prevention to Work,” a two-year study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), worked with schools in underserved areas as hubs for increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables and physical activity.

In the first new project, Bell will lead the Center for Social Work Research (CSWR) research team on a program evaluation of Increasing Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening and Diagnostic Services in Rural, Frontier, and Border Counties. In this three-year project, CSWR investigators will partner with Texas AgriLife Extension to evaluate the development of a coordinated system of screening, diagnosis, and referrals for treatment of breast and cervical cancer for rural Texas women across 40 counties, with a focus on those who are uninsured and over 40 years of age.

The project will build on the Friend-to-Friend program, which provides information, encouragement, and access to breast cancer screening in a social support setting. This new round of funding from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) will support the addition of four patient navigators who will offer education, services and transportation to breast and cervical screening and diagnostic services. If cancer is found, they will offer assistance to find and pay for treatment. Bell, Cubbin and Scarborough will assist in the development of the program and provide both quantitative and qualitative evaluation to improve the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of this program.

Under the direction of Cubbin, the CSWR evaluators again will collaborate with Texas AgriLife under the DSHS’s CDC-funded initiative “Transforming Texas: Healthy People in Healthy Communities.” The Community Transformation study focuses on environmental and policy changes to promote healthy living.  Building on ongoing work in Starr County on the Texas-Mexico border by Texas AgriLife, the five-year outcomes for this project include:

• Reduce death and disability due to tobacco use by 5%

• Reduce the rate of obesity through nutrition and physical activity interventions by 5%

• Reduce death and disability due to heart disease and stroke by 5%

To demonstrate the impact this project will have on these indicators, CSWR evaluators will conduct a community survey in the first, third and fifth years, including questions about secondhand smoke exposure, recommendations for physical activity, consumptions of fruits and vegetables, chronic disease self-management outcomes, and obesity. The research team will use vital statistics (death records) to analyze reductions in the death rate from tobacco use, heart disease and stroke and other archival data to establish reductions in disability due to tobacco use, heart disease and stroke. In addition, the team will conduct a community assessment, policy scan, and key informant interviews during semi-annual site visits to document the development of policy and environmental changes.

In the third new project, Cubbin, as a recipient of Faculty Research Award through the UT Austin Office of Vice President for Research, is conducting Vegetables On Wheels (VOW):  A pilot program to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in a rural Texas community. As an outgrowth of “Texas Putting Prevention to Work,” Vegetables on Wheels is designed as a one-year pilot study that examines the effectiveness of using a mobile produce market, to be operated by Texas AgriLife, to increase access and consumption of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in a rural, underserved area in west Texas.