Translation Research as a Strategy to Improve Health Equity
Elva Arredondo, PhD, Board Member Delegate
As member delegate, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the inspiration behind some of the key themes at the SBM meeting in San Diego in March under the leadership of Dr. Jim Sallis. Like many SBM members, I’m passionate about finding ways to improve preventive behaviors in underserved communities and to help reduce health disparities among racial/ethnic groups. However, I’m frequently challenged by translating the findings of my research into policies and fear that the communities I’m most concerned with benefit little from the research my colleagues and I conduct. For example, there is ample evidence that increasing access to physical activity programs facilitates physical activity, but few policies and government funded physical activity programs exist for low resource communities. Over the last decade, there have been increasing efforts to reduce the evidence-practice and policy gap. This is evident in the growing number of webinars sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and in the workshops offered at professional conferences like Active Living Research that provide researchers the tools to translate their research findings into meaningful policies. Being able to translate research into policy is a valuable skill, similar to that which is needed when collaborating with community stakeholders and researchers from other disciplines. Our target communities benefit when we are able to communicate our research in ways that are meaningful and relevant to other disciplines and policy makers responsible for protecting the health of the community.
Speaking of community advocacy, several members of the SBM’s executive committee had the opportunity to visit with policy aides on Capital Hill to advocate for increased NIH funding and for legislation that can help prevent disease. The funding for the U.S. Prevention and Public Health Fund, which supports services and programs that help reduce the risk of chronic disease, is always financially threatened. During the meetings, my colleagues and I presented the research generated by SBM members that impacts the communities most relevant to the policy makers. Some of the policies we advocated were specific to individual states and others were national in focus, like the protection of funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Program, and support for adequate insurance reimbursement for evidence based psychological services. This past year, SBM has published several public policy positions including Lung-Cancer Screening for High-Risk Patients, increasing HPV vaccination uptake, and stronger regulation of electronic nicotine delivery systems; these and others can be found here.
While it is important to tailor our research findings to policy makers, we can also play an important role in helping community leaders utilize research findings while advocating for healthier communities. Using research to help community leaders advocate for healthier communities not only improves the wellbeing of communities, but it can also empower the leaders. I have had the honor of observing community leaders and organizations as they use research to advocate for improved social and built environments to promote more physical activity. We have an opportunity to learn more about how other researchers and health advocates translate research to policy and practice through various keynote speakers which have been featured by SBM’s president Dr. Jim Sallis here.
Resources for researchers
There are a number of resources such as webinars and toolkits to can assist researchers in translating their research into practice and policy. For investigators conducting physical activity research, helpful information on this topic can be found in Active Living Research and Research to Reality websites. Also, Dr. Ross Brownson and colleagues provide a valuable framework to help guide the process of research translation to policy/action. For interventions to achieve their full potential, I want to encourage SBM members to commit to one action to translate their research which could include thinking through the resources needed to facilitate adoption of the program to a non-research setting.