Karen M. Emmons, PhD, Dean for Academic Affairs

My research program has largely focused on developing effective cancer prevention interventions for low income and under-resourced communities. Within that broad body of work are three major and often cross-cutting themes: (1) working in health care and community health settings to reduce cancer risk factors; (2) improving the scalability of cancer risk reduction interventions; and (3) reducing prevalence of multiple cancer risk factors. Another focus of my work within these two major themes has been on multiple risk behaviors, which may confer increased risk.

Work in Health Systems and Community Health Settings
Cancer prevention interventions have been less effective with lower income populations and those from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds. This may be at least in part because interventions typically do not consider the social contextual factors that may influence participation in and response to such interventions. I have conducted a number of studies designed to address social context and to improve cancer prevention and early detection outcomes for under-resourced communities. My team’s work in this thematic area moved intervention research beyond testing interventions, to addressing mechanisms that impact on participants’ ability to address their health behaviors, such as neighborhood and community level factors. This research effectively engaged communities as partners, and lead to significant improvements in cancer prevention outcomes across a number of target areas.

Improving the Scalability of Cancer Risk Reduction Interventions
The second major theme of my work has been on the development of sustainable intervention strategies that could be used in a variety of settings to efficiently deliver interventions and to build community capacity.

This work involves a variety of approaches that extend our ability to provide interventions to large numbers of people, including technology, peer leaders and community health workers, and social networks. I am also actively involved in building the field of implementation science, through participation in research networks as well as training activities.

Reducing Multiple Cancer Risk Factors
The third major theme of my work has been on reducing prevalence of multiple risk factors for behavior. Cancer risk behaviors often co-occur, and we have investigated whether interventions that address multiple behaviors, rather than one at a time, can lead to greater risk reduction. We have conducted a number of studies simultaneously targeting tobacco use, physical inactivity, fruit and vegetable intake and multi-vitamin intake. We demonstrated significant rates of change across multiple risk factors, in a variety of settings.

My research programs have been largely funded by a number of research awards from the National Institute of Health. To date, I have authored 269 original research reports.