The mission of the Harvard Prevention Research Center (HPRC) is to work with communities, community agencies, state and local government, and other partners to develop, implement, and evaluate methodologies and interventions to improve nutrition and physical activity and reduce overweight and chronic disease risk among children, youth, and their families, and to reduce and eliminate disparities in these outcomes.
In 1998, the HPRC began with 4 faculty, 3 staff, and 23 community-based advisory board members. We have now grown to more than double our original size, with our staff and faculty representing diverse disciplines including education, exercise science, nutrition, maternal & child health, sociology, social work, social epidemiology, behavioral science, pediatrics, and statistics.
The HPRC has participated in drawing national attention to the need for replicable, effective strategies to improve nutrition and physical activity and prevent obesity using a social ecological perspective. HPRC faculty and staff, with our community partners, have launched groundbreaking research in school, community and health care settings. We disseminate models, materials and curricula to partner communities and states, as well as nationally and internationally. Our focus populations are children, youth and their families in Boston and our mission is to reduce and eliminate disparities in nutrition, physical activity, and overweight and associated chronic disease risk.
Impact of Our Research
Translation of research into practice:
- Boston’s former Mayor Menino called the Play Across Boston work “a ‘playbook’ for future sports and recreation plans by the City of Boston and its partners.” After documenting disparities in participation in out of school time programs and access to quality playgrounds in the city, the project partners worked together to monitor ongoing citywide efforts and success in reducing documented disparities in access to quality physical activity facilities.
- Our work through partnerships with the Massachusetts Early Education and Care Commission and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has resulted in regulatory changes and provider training models to improve physical activity and nutrition in state-licensed afterschool and early child care sites.
Changes to environmental systems:
- Since 2012, over 150 afterschool programs in Massachusetts have participated in the Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity (OSNAP) Initiative designed to help create healthy spaces for kids by work to improve nutrition- and physical activity-
related practices, environments, and policies in afterschool and summer programs. Evaluation of program data shows positive changes in physical activity and beverages.
- The YMCA-Harvard Afterschool Food and Fitness Project intervention, which included implementation of activities to increase physical activity during afterschool time, was found to increase energy expenditure per day per student by about 25 kcal per day (our studies indicate that an energy imbalance of about 110-165 kcal/day is fueling the obesity epidemic).
Widespread use of evidence-based programs and policies:
- Our Planet Health and Eat Well and Keep Moving curricula have been disseminated worldwide, with over 10,000 copies of Planet Health, and 5,000 copies of Eat Well and Keep Moving distributed in all 50 US states and more than 20 countries. The published paper on the Planet Health curriculum has been cited more than 14,00 times.
- The Food and Fun Afterschool Curriculum was implemented in 517 YMCA Associations nationwide, from September 2009 to June 2012.
Increased skilled public health professionals and community members:
- The Leaders in Health Community Training Program in collaboration with Harvard Catalyst and the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness was created to build the internal capacity of our community partners by providing selected staff with training in community based participatory research methods and nutrition, physical activity, and obesity prevention.
Expanded resources for applied public health researchers:
- The clinical materials used in the Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative (MYOC) have now been adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and are being distributed worldwide, indicating both substantial impact in the rural state and important gains in knowledge of effective strategies for delivering primary care prevention.
- The OSNAP Initiative materials include validated and reliable instruments for both researchers and afterschool program staff to use in evaluating snack consumption and physical activity, nutrition and screen time practices at afterschool sites.
Recognition and support of HPRC research and activities:
- Our afterschool interventions, OSNAP and Food & Fun, have been included as evidence-based resources by a number of organizations, including the Center for Translational Research, the YMCA of the USA, Obesity180 Healthy Kids Hub, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
- Keep ME Healthy, an initiative of the MYOC, Planet Health, and Eat Well and Keep Moving have all been included in the National Cancer Institute’s Research-Tested Intervention Program’s site.
- Eat Well and Keep Moving received the United States Department of Agriculture Promising Practice Award in 1997 and the Dannon Award for Excellence in Community Nutrition for 2000.