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Researchers at KU Medical Center work to improve health and prevent chronic disease in Southwest Kansas

Population health researchers at KU receive a nearly $3.7 million federal award to address chronic diseases in Grant, Finney, Ford and Seward counties in Kansas.

Cows stand in a field of grass with cloudy blue sky above
Four Kansas counties will benefit from a federal award to prevent chronic diseases and reduce health disparities.

Researchers at the University of Kansas received $721,999 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the first year in the five-year Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program. The REACH funding will help improve health, prevent chronic diseases and reduce health disparities among Latinos, who have the highest burden of chronic disease in Grant, Finney, Ford and Seward counties.

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke are among the most common causes of illness, disability and death in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs. These chronic conditions — and the factors that lead to them — are more common or severe for some racial and ethnic groups.

“We pursued this project because we know Southwest Kansas has a lot of rich diversity, and many Latinos there have a disproportionate risk for chronic diseases like diabetes,” said Vicki Collie-Akers, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor in the Department of Population Health in KU School of Medicine and the principal investigator for the project. “We are hopeful that we can create more equitable conditions to reduce those risks by eliminating the barriers to systems that support health and wellness.”

The KU Medical Center team will work with partners and local coalitions to enhance existing resources, address health needs in those four counties and reduce health disparities.

“CDC is excited to announce this new REACH funding across 27 states and the District of Columbia,” said Terry O’Toole, Ph.D., program development and evaluation branch chief in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “With this funding, organizations will plan and carry out local, culturally appropriate programs to address a wide range of health issues among racial and ethnic minority groups where health gaps remain. REACH intends to improve health where people live, learn, work and play.” 

As one of 41 REACH recipients, KU Medical Center will implement proven public health strategies to:

  • Simplify healthy food choices — promoting food service and nutrition guidelines, expanding fruit and vegetable voucher incentives and produce prescription programs.
  • Provide safe and accessible physical activity — connecting pedestrian, bicycle or transit transportation networks to everyday destinations.
  • Streamline continuity of care in breastfeeding support — collaborating with partners to implement breastfeeding-friendly policies and practices.

“By changing the environment around these issues, we can break down barriers to healthy behaviors,” Collie-Akers added. “We are hopeful this project creates more equitable conditions to help people reduce their health risks.”

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