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KNOXVILLE — A new grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will allow researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to better understand how public health programs affect the level of heath care across the U.S.

The $133,000 grant to the UT Knoxville Center for Public Health will fund a yearlong study to examine the way that changes in health policy on the state level have impacts on the most important health outcomes.

Dr. Paul Erwin, the center’s director and the lead researcher on the grant, says the research will add to a small but growing body of evidence that can help inform policymakers and leaders in the field.

“For all the good work done in the field of public health, there’s still not a large enough base of evidence regarding outcomes,” said Erwin. “There’s a need to uncover the ties between changes at the policy level and the health outcomes in the populations served.”

Erwin is particularly interested in how states have responded to national rankings, such as the United Health Foundation’s “America’s Health Rankings,” specific actions states have taken to address poor rankings, and the impact of those actions on health outcomes.

He noted that the research is even more important in the context of the larger economic downturn and increased pressures on health care spending across the board.

“The global economic crisis will continue to constrain resources, and even before the worst of this, major sources of spending on public health programs like the Centers for Disease Control were cutting back,” he said.

Erwin is partnering with researchers in UT’s College of Social Work and College of Nursing on the grant. In looking at the effects policy can have, they will look both at mortality — as Erwin puts it, “the ultimate outcome,” — and at morbidity, which is the prevalence of poor health conditions or behaviors, such as obesity and smoking.

By examining statistics and conducting in-depth interviews with public health professionals at the state level across the country, the researchers hope to create a template of information that can be used to shape future policies.

“The hope with this research is that we can take the information back to the policymakers and say, ‘If you increase public health resources as a result of certain policies, you can expect a certain amount of health improvement to follow,'” said Erwin.

The grant is part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Systems and Services Research.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit http://www.rwjf.org.


Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)