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$7 million NIH grant funds ASU center on minority health

October 23, 2017

Researchers from range of fields to advance solutions for substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease in minority populations

A $7 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), of the National Institutes of Health, will fund a specialized research “Center for Excellence” at Arizona State University to improve the health of minority populations.

The five-year grant will advance the work of the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, part of the School of Social Work in the College of Public Services and Community Solutions on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

The transdisciplinary center brings together researchers from social work, nutrition, health and sociology to advance programs aimed at reducing chronic disease, with a particular focus on minority populations of the Southwest.

“For many years our research has focused on the social and cultural determinants of health — everything that is nonmedical. But our cultural beliefs also have an impact on biological components of health and what we believe to be an illness or a cure. Do we exercise, diet, drink?” said Flavio Marsiglia, principal investigator of the funded award, Regents' Professor at the School of Social Work and director of the Global Center for Applied Health Research. “With this funding, we can take a more holistic approach integrating sociocultural and biological factors to improve health disparities.”

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center is one of 12 Centers of Excellence nationwide funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

“We need strong collaborations and research based upon asking the right questions in specific areas," said NIMHD Director Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable. "The Centers of Excellence are poised to emphasize scientific inquiry that will promote health equity.”

Flavio Marsiglia

Regents' Professor Flavio Marsiglia is principal investigator of a new specialized Center of Excellence at ASU focused on a comprehensive look at reducing health disparities.

The grant funds two main research projects, a development program for new faculty and researchers and an outreach component to maximize the impact of the new transdisciplinary center. The two research projects target youth and family behaviors associated with obesity-related disease and substance-abuse disorders. Findings will guide the design and testing of effective interventions that can improve the health of young people by strengthening the protective factors related to family, social and cultural influences and by weakening the risk factors.

“Our goal is to follow up now with young adults who were adolescents to examine long-term sustainability in changes in health outcomes and how the trajectory of those changes may be influenced by home and community environments,” said Gabe Shaibi, an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and a principal investigator of one of the research center’s projects. “We want to better understand how to integrate these contextual factors into health promotion, disease prevention interventions.”

ASU researchers will expand upon an existing program that empowers parents to promote substance-use prevention for their seventh-grade children. By also incorporating content about healthy eating, they can assess if parents can simultaneously and positively impact two health behaviors, nutrition and substance use.

“Because of the central role of the family in the Latino community, we propose that parenting programs that address multiple conditions can more effectively prevent, reduce and eventually help eliminate health disparities among Latino youth,” said Sonia Vega Lopez, a principal investigator and associate professor of nutrition at the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion in the College of Health Solutions.

The grant includes an outreach component by the School of Social Work to translate the knowledge gained by the studies and pilot projects into policy and best practices with stakeholders.

“We look forward to communicating the evidence-based findings from this research,” said James Herbert Williams, a principal investigator, and director of the School of Social Work. “Sharing best practices is vital to improving the health of our communities.”

Stephen Kulis

National Institutes of Health grant funding will also be used to establish an Investigator Development Core that will allow early-career faculty and postdocs involved in health-disparities research to advance their careers by conducting their own related research.

“We expect to have three pilot projects funded every year or more for each of the five years,” said Stephen Kulis, a principal investigator and professor at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Our objective is to not only generate new ideas and health disparities research but also to develop the next generation of health-disparities researchers.”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director , College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU professor charts digital plan to fight domestic violence

October 23, 2017

New app myPlan a tool to help with making safety decisions, connecting to resources

Fact: Almost 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Fact: College-age women (ages 18 to 24) are at high risk for intimate partner violence.

Fact: The cost of intimate-partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion a year in higher medical costs and lost productivity.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — 31 days of reflection brought about by years of suffering, survivorship and study that experts say still needs far more attention. Although domestic violence cases involving celebrities, politicians and professional athletes will occasionally trigger calls for action on social media and other platforms, the faces of many lesser-known cases continue to suffer in silence.

Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, is working to address that silence. Reversing the negative use of technology in intimate partner violence, Messing is working to create a safe space for victims in the technology space of digital applications. She is part of a team that is developing myPlan, a new app designed to help college-age women spot the signs of an abusive relationship — and find their way out.

Highlighting the resulting impact of domestic violence on our communities, Messing recently discussed the efforts and research in play to stem the problem long described as the “quiet epidemic.”

Jill Theresa Messing

Question: In recent years we have seen increased reports about domestic violence as a public health threat. How do we define domestic violence, and what are some examples of its impact on public health?

Answer: "Domestic violence" is the term generally used by the public and practice communities to refer to violence within intimate partnerships (e.g., people who are dating, in a relationship or have a child together). Violence is generally understood to be physical (e.g., pushing, slapping, hitting) or sexual (e.g., forcing a partner into sexual activity with violence or threats).

Other abusive actions such as name calling, put-downs, harassment, stalking, control, jealousy, financial abuse, threats and other behaviors are also considered domestic violence. In the research literature, this form of violence or abuse is often termed gender-based violence or intimate-partner violence.

Intimate-partner violence disproportionately affects women and can lead to physical- and mental-health consequences. In addition to injury that results from violence, intimate-partner violence leads to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance misuse and other negative outcomes. In the most extreme cases, intimate-partner violence escalates to homicide.

Knowing what a healthy relationship looks like is just as important as being able to recognize red flags for abuse. Healthy relationships include mutual respect, safety, open and honest communication, compromise, equality, independence, freedom, support and privacy. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy and safe relationship.

Q: Despite an increase in education and resources for domestic violence, there still seems to be a reluctance on the part of others to get involved or reach out to those who they suspect of being abused. What is the most important thing a person can do if they suspect abuse?

A: Friends are often the first to know about abuse. The most important thing that someone can do if they suspect that a friend is being abused is to talk to their friend in a kind, non-judgmental manner. Many people who are being abused would like to talk about it but are scared. Listening to your friend, being supportive, and not telling her/him what to do can be very effective. Ask your friend what you can do to help.

Starting in 2018, ASU’s School of Social Work will also begin offering new degree programs to better educate and equip students with the tools they need to spot and stop domestic violence. Coursework will include focus on technology-based abuse, intimate-partner violence risk assessment, teen dating violence, violence against women in the global context, and the domestic violence social movement. The courses will be offered as part of undergraduate and graduate certificates in domestic violence.

Q: We have heard some of the ways technology has enabled domestic violence (harassment, stalking, etc.), but how is it also playing a role in addressing the issue?

A: Technology is an important tool for education and can connect people to helpful community-based resources. I have partnered with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University to develop the myPlan app. Because women are more likely than men to be abused, to suffer injuries due to violence and to be killed by intimate partners, myPlan is for female-identifying students who are in a relationship with a male or female partner.

The app provides the user with a private, safe and non-judgmental space to consider their values and to weigh the risks and benefits of their relationship. It’s tailored to each person’s unique situation and provides a safety plan as well as free and often confidential resources. MyPlan is available for iPhone and Android devices and is completely free. There is also a version for friends. If you think a friend is being abused, myPlan can provide help and advice specific to your friend’s situation. Visit to learn more.

Unfortunately, technology is often used to abuse, harass or stalk someone in an abusive relationship, and technology safety is an important aspect of staying safe. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has information about staying safe online. There are also confidential and even anonymous resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love is Respect that can help.

Q: What is new research telling us about domestic violence?

A: Much of my research focuses on the development and use of risk-assessment instruments that provide information about the danger that an abuser poses for a domestic violence victim. Risk assessments can be used for women to assess their own danger or a friend’s danger, or they can be used by practitioners who work with victims or offenders for safety planning. The criminal justice system is increasingly using risk assessments to make determinations about whether a domestic violence offender should be released on bond or the conditions of that release. Some of my current research is developing culturally competent adaptations of a risk assessment for immigrant, refugee and Native American victims of intimate-partner violence.

At ASU, we are also learning from students who are placed in domestic violence agencies across Arizona through our AmeriCorps internship program. Since 2015, 149 AmeriCorps members from various disciplines have volunteered more than 72,000 hours serving vulnerable survivors of domestic violence and their families. The students are getting an opportunity to learn more about domestic violence through hands-on experience while earning a stipend and education credit that they can put toward future tuition or student loans. Members have already earned more than $409,000 in scholarships and educational awards through the AmeriCorps program.

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications