University and community engagement in research exists along a spectrum. Minimally, community-placed research exists when community members are asked to individually participate in research, but no attempt is made to either engage the community or understand community research needs. At the other end of the spectrum, there is true community-based participatory research (CBPR) in which the community has engaged in the development of the research question, as well as in the research design, implementation, analysis, and eventually dissemination of the results. In reality, universities primarily engage in community-placed research;few truly community-based partnership projects are performed. As a result, underserved communities have suffered from research that disregards community needs, often resulting in harm from inappropriate research that may be stigmatizing. Underserved communities face a disproportionate burden of chronic disease, in large part due to lifestyle factors. These lifestyle factors are affected by a complex system of personal choices and environmental features. Therefore, effective chronic disease prevention can be accomplished in underserved communities only when they are empowered to create community-based intervention strategies that make healthier lifestyle choices easier for their members. Specifically, community members need the knowledge and confidence to effect change, access to safe settings for physical activity, availability of healthy food choices, and community and environmental support for health-promoting decisions. Thus, effective interventions need to be directed at not merely fostering household change, but at altering the broader environments that limit household choices. Families can then model healthy behaviors for their children and other families, with the community supporting these actions and allowing the healthy behaviors to serve as an example for other communities. To be successful, interventions for these complex health disparities must be conducted in partnership with the communities and must engage community members in all aspects of the research process. The goal of the Community Engagement and Outreach Core is to enhance existing UW academic-community partnerships and to build with underserved Wisconsin communities new research and educational partnerships, all of which are designed to encourage/pursue research that is moving along the spectrum towards truly community-based participatory research. Such partnerships will increase the capacity to conduct high quality research that focuses on chronic disease health disparities. These endeavors will increase the trust of underserved communities for the university, and provide educational opportunities for both partners.
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