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Arnold School of Public Health

Cancer Prevention and Control Program Diet Assessment Research and Data Analysis and Management Units’ services support research across university

March 29, 2018 | Erin Bluvas,

Housed within the Arnold School of Public Health, the University of South Carolina’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program (CPCP) was established in 2003 by current CPCP director and Health Sciences Distinguished Professor James Hébert to investigate and reduce the burden of cancer by eliminating cancer disparities and making effective methods of preventing and controlling cancer available to all. CPCP’s role is especially important for South Carolina, which has some of the worst health indicators in the United States and some of the highest cancer incidence rates in the world.

When Hébert joined the Arnold School in 1999 as chair of the epidemiology and biostatistics department and director of the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, he brought two programs with him that he had established during his previous appointment at the University of Massachusetts: the diet assessment research unit and data analysis and management unit. These programs would become core resources within CPCP and have been utilized by numerous researchers in parallel with CPCP’s growth, which has evolved to encompass an interdisciplinary team of over 50 individuals, including 14 core faculty, staff, students and other trainees from various departments and schools across the university.

Diet Assessment Research Unit

“The diet assessment unit has a long history,” says Tom Hurley, a senior biostatistician who has worked with the unit since 1996 and managed it since 2000. “It started with contracts with Harvard and Emory to do the diet assessment for their projects which were part of the National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Change Consortium. Since then we have done the diet assessment on over 45 research projects, working with just about everyone at USC who is doing diet-related epidemiologic research.”

Available to researchers at USC and other institutions, this unit provides expertise in the design, collection, processing and analysis of information on dietary habits and nutrient intake. Hurley and his team assess diet for two main purposes: 1) in observational studies to assess the role of diet in health; and 2) to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention strategies in modifying diet.

Some recent projects supported by the dietary assessment unit include examining community gardening and cancer-preventive behaviors (e.g., diet, physical activity) among multi-ethnic, low-income adults; working to achieve and maintain healthy weight in pregnancy and during postpartum among overweight/obese African-American women; characterizing food desert communities with high poverty and low food access; and conducting a study of motivational and family-based weight loss.

The diet assessment unit also has supported multiple projects related to dietary inflammation, which is known to be linked to cancer and other chronic conditions. Diet-associated inflammation is one of the cornerstones of the CPCP’s research expertise, and it has grown dramatically in stature over the years. In total, this unit has conducted more than 100,000 diet interviews and works with a team of five experienced registered dietitians.

Data Analysis and Management Unit

In perfect complement to the diet assessment unit, the data analysis and management unit supports many of the same projects. However, this unit’s services have been applied to numerous non-diet-related studies as well. These include projects focusing on physical activity, general health, quality-of-life assessment, and psychosocial factors like social support.

Also open to researchers at USC and other institutions, this unit employs several full-time staff members and multiple graduate assistants to assist with web-based data collection, design of scannable questionnaires, development of research databases for project management and study participant tracking, and expert data management.

“There is also a small clinical setup in CPCP for drawing and processing blood, as well as collecting anthropometric measures such as height, weight, and body composition,” says research associate Samira Khan, who co-leads the data analysis and management unit with Hurley. “Our expertise focuses on clinical and behavioral trials with emphasis on diet, physical activity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and dissemination and implementation trials.”

The diet assessment and data analysis and management units are available to support current and future research projects both at the University of South Carolina and other institutions. Learn more about these CPCP core resources or contact Tom Hurley or Samira Khan with questions.


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