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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Faculty Member Awarded NCI Grant to Help Young Adult Cancer Survivors Become More Physically Active

Dr. Carmina Valle, research assistant professor of health behavior and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been awarded a four-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, titled “Promoting physical activity in young adult cancer survivors using mHealth and adaptive tailored feedback strategies.”

[Photo: Dr. Carmina Valle]

More than 560,000 young adult cancer survivors live in the United States. Diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 39, young adult cancer survivors are an underserved and vulnerable subgroup of survivors who experience increased risk over time for obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Increasing physical activity is a promising behavioral intervention that has positive effects on physical function, body composition, cardiovascular fitness and health-related quality of life among cancer survivors.

To date, few interventions have been designed specifically to promote physical activity in young adult cancer survivors, and none has been successful in promoting long-term adherence to physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week of activity that is of moderate to vigorous intensity.

Effective physical activity interventions have used self-monitoring as a behavior change technique to help individuals monitor daily activity, set goals and enhance motivation. The widespread availability of lower-cost wearable activity trackers presents a unique opportunity to simplify self-monitoring and deliver more precisely tailored interventions. These interventions dynamically adapt goals and messages in response to an individual’s changing activity patterns over time to provide more relevant and timely support.

Little is known, however, about the types of support needed to help young adult cancer survivors engage in regular activity and maintain it over time.

To address this research gap, Dr. Valle will build on preliminary work completed as part of her doctoral dissertation in nutrition at the Gillings School, which included research that used a Facebook-delivered intervention to increase light physical activity. The current project will employ wearable activity trackers, personalized activity goals and frequent, individualized text-message support to increase physical activity.

Dr. Valle will conduct a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of this theory-based, mobile- health intervention for increasing physical activity among young adult cancer survivors from across the United States.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to work with young adult cancer survivors and help address their unmet needs,” Dr. Valle said. “We hope that the findings from this novel study will inform a new generation of high-reach, low-cost, technology-based intervention strategies that have potential to be scalable and to reduce cancer-related chronic illness and health disparities.”

UNC co-investigators on the project include Dr. Deborah Tate, Gillings School professor of health behavior and of nutrition, and Dr. Donald Rosenstein, professor of medicine and psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

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