During the third annual Appalachian Research Day, UK researchers revealed the insights of their studies aimed at addressing health problems of rural Ky.

Appalachian Research Day addresses rural health issues

Inviting researchers to “come sit on the porch” and share their findings with community members, the UK Center for Excellence in Rural Health (CERH) hosted its third annual Appalachian Research Day in Hazard, Ky., on May 24.

Rural Appalachian communities experience some of the most severe health disparities in the nation, and community-based research is an effective method to identify problems and develop collaborative, effective solutions.

This type of engaged research begins at the local level, built on the foundation of relationships with individuals, neighborhoods and groups who have common questions and concerns. And for many researchers at UK and partner institutions, the CERH is an indispensable resource for conducting community-based research. It provides local connections, infrastructure, dedicated research personnel and a team of community health workers, called Kentucky Homeplace, who engage participants and gather data.

“Appalachian Research Day is an important and exciting day for us each year at the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health. It is an opportunity for us to provide research updates to our community about relevant issues that affect all of us,” said Fran Feltner, director of the CERH. “Appalachian Research Day is also an opportunity for dialogue with community members to discuss what we can come up with together to better our lives in Appalachia.”

This year’s event, which was held at Hazard Community and Technical College to accommodate the growing number of participants, included Hazard Mayor Jimmy Lindon and Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander, who both made remarks during lunch. Also present were Andrea Begley, field office representative for U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, and Jenna Meyer of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who is on special assignment in Eastern Kentucky for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.

Research insights in cancer, addiction, nutrition

Featured presentations reported findings from five health research studies conducted with Appalachian communities:

  • Dr. Susanne Arnold, associate director of clinical translation at the UK Markey Cancer Center, presented her research examining the interrelated causes of lung cancer and how to combat them. She reported that lung cancer risk has environmental, physical and molecular causes, some of which can be prevented.
  • Nancy Schoenberg, PhD, associate dean for research of the UK College of Public Health and Marion Pearsall Professor of Behavioral Science in the UK College of Medicine, studies the health of grandfamilies in Appalachia. Her recent study with rural adults over age 65 found that half of them struggled to make ends meet and experienced many physical health problems.
  • Dr. Judith Feinberg, professor in the Department of Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry at West Virginia University School of Medicine, studies behavioral medicine and psychiatry. She presented her research on addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease, reporting that syringe services programs (SSPs) operate under the principles of harm reduction and have been shown to offer significant protection for people injecting drugs, including lower risk of HIV infection.
  • Jarod T. Giger, PhD, of the UK colleges of social work, medicine and public health, studies child well-being in Eastern Kentucky. In a recent study, he found that children in three Eastern Kentucky counties reported relatively high amounts of electronic health literacy but low amounts of overall life satisfaction and affective and psychological well-being.
  • Omopé Carter Daboiku is an Appalachian foodways scholar who leads workshops that operate on an emotional level to help participants understand that adapting family recipes to healthier versions doesn’t disrespect one’s ancestors. Her work incorporates nostalgic attachment to food memories, with the understanding that the relationships these memories invoke can make it difficult to prepare healthier food.

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