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Found in translation: Prevention science moves public health from laboratory to real world

“How do we take what we learn and put it to good use in the real world?”  — Brittany Cooper

Childhood obesity, teen pregnancy and high school alcoholism are serious social and pubic health issues facing our nation. The study of programs that attempt to address these concerns up-stream are the focus of prevention science.

On Sept. 27, Brittany Rhoades Cooper, assistant professor in the department of human development at WSU, spoke about her work in prevention science at WSU Vancouver’s Human Development Research Colloquium.

Prevention science studies the impact and effectiveness of community information and education services and programs.

Cooper calls upon her research at Pennsylvania State University to explain how best practices can be identified and applied to real life. She cites Boys and Girls Clubs of America as an example of prevention science in action. This organization helps children develop effective life skills including goal setting, leadership and responsibility. School-based curricula regarding bullying, drugs, pregnancy and nutrition are other examples of prevention science.

Cooper explained that the process of translating knowledge and theory into solutions falls into two categories. The first type of translation involves identifying a problem (such as drug use among high school students) and associated risk factors, interventions to prevent the problem and methods for testing the intervention’s effectiveness.

The second type begins when interventions become widely disseminated, sustainable over time and produce a measureable impact on public health. Cooper is specifically interested in the second form of translation.

“Prevention science is all about translating knowledge to action and that’s what gets me excited about doing this research,” Cooper said.
According to Cooper, type two translation “is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where we take programs that have proven effective in research trials and put them to use in the real world. How do we take what we learn and put it to good use in the real world where we run in to all kinds of problems, barriers and challenges?”

Cooper said moving a public health initiative through the processes of translation can take as long as 20 years.

Prevention science aims to answer a huge question of whether a method has made a public health impact. To answer this question, Cooper worked with the Evidence-Based Prevention and Intervention Support Center in Pennsylvania where she had the opportunity to study diverse public health programs.

Cooper’s team analyzed the functionality and sustainability of several programs to gain a clearer view of what is working in prevention science.
“By identifying what is going on out there and why, we can actually start moving toward better support [for] the programs [that are] being implemented,” Cooper said.

Cooper said she has high hopes for prevention programs in the state of Washington and is looking forward to conducting more research on prevention science services here.

WSU launched a new Ph.D. in prevention science at the Pullman campus this fall. Offered through the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, this field of study focuses on the science of developing up-stream prevention solutions to public health issues.

At WSU Vancouver, the department of human development offers a bachelor of arts in human development, a certificate and minor in gerontology, a certificate in human services case management and administration and a minor in human development.

Cooper was invited to speak at the fall Human Development Colloquium by the WSU Vancouver Human Development Club. This registered student organization is available to all currently enrolled students who are interested in and committed to the field of human development. The club provides opportunities for student involvement on campus and in the community at large. Find out more on CougSync.

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