Dell Center for Healthy Living to launch statewide network to increase access to research

Image of a young boy eating a slice of watermelon
New statewide network aims to advance progress in child nutrition.
PHOTO CREDIT: UTHealth

HOUSTON – The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, announced today a new plan to create a statewide network of researchers, decision-makers, and other key representatives that will give increased access to evidence-based solutions and data.

Using four-year renewal funding of $2.97 million from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the center aims to use new state-level connections to advance progress in key areas affecting child health including nutrition, physical activity, tobacco and e-cigarette use. The center is housed at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin.

“It’s the first time this has been done at a state level and we’re excited about the opportunities the network presents to better inform decision-making. It will also help us create new, and further improve, existing partnerships,” said Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D.N., director of the center and regional dean of UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin.

“We want to generate and facilitate meaningful conversations and relationships at a broader level to make a greater impact on the biggest issues concerning child health. Introducing this infrastructure will lead to a more systematic method to connect and fully engage our researchers with decision-makers,” Hoelscher said. “We will also support our researchers in making their findings and recommendations more accessible to non-experts, for instance through producing usable evidence summaries, so their work is regarded as an essential resource.”

As part of this aim, the center plans to develop an online Texas Child Health Scorecard, drawing on best practices from similar concepts and the center’s various data sources, such as its School Physical Activity and Nutrition survey and the Texas Adolescent Tobacco and Marketing Surveillance study. The scorecard will provide a comprehensive overview of the state of child health as well as a detailed breakdown of important data relating to priority areas. Resources, including recommendations and toolkits, will offer ways to address the identified needs.

“It’s unique because, unlike other states, we will be able to identify differences between areas of Texas, as well as Texas-Mexico border and non-border regions. These differences determine how we might address different health needs by region, which is especially important given our statewide network of School of Public Health campuses.”

UTHealth School of Public Health comprises six campuses across Texas in Houston, Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio.

“The scorecard will be available to advocacy groups and those decision-makers at a community level, as well as state legislators,” Hoelscher said. “In addition to informing decisions, these data can also be used to apply for grants.”

Another focus area of the center is building community capacity through outreach work and the training and employment of students in community-based research and practice. Many students at the Austin campus of UTHealth School of Public Health have been employed through center projects and used its data for their master’s, pre-doctoral and post-doctoral studies.

Established 12 years ago, the center set out a vision of healthy children in a healthy world, striving to advance health and healthy living for children and families through leading-edge research, innovative community-based programs and sharing evidence-based practices.

“Our vision of healthy children in a healthy world remains the same and we will continue to concentrate our efforts in Texas, where we are best placed to make the greatest impact,” Hoelscher said. “Our resources and data can be used to support those who don’t have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, for example, and are unable to advocate for themselves.”

Hoelscher adds that the center is looking forward to building on its proven track record and expanding its reach.

“We have made promising progress but there’s much more to do, and this funding will be instrumental in helping us achieve these future goals. This funding will make a real difference to children’s health both now and in future,” she said. 

— Written by Victoria Tagg, Media Contact, 1-713-500-3030