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Faculty & Staff Honors

University at Buffalo Researchers Receive $1.3 Million Grant to Explore Reasons Underlying People’s Risk Uncertainty for Two Common Diseases

Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer are two highly preventable diseases, yet a significant proportion of people do not know their risk for these diseases despite a proliferation of risk-based prevention messaging.

Dr. Heather Orom and Dr. Marc Kiviniemi, both associate professors in the department of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, are part of a research team that has received a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health to explore the underlying reasons for such uncertainty amongst the public.

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[Photo: Dr. Heather Orom]

“Preliminary work from our and other labs has shown that a non-trivial portion of the population is uncertain about their risk for common illness,” explains Dr. Orom, one of the two principal investigators of the study.  “However, the mechanisms underlying risk uncertainty remain unknown, which limits our ability to develop effective intervention strategies to change behavior, especially in those who remain uncertain about their risk despite the wide-spread dissemination of risk-based health messaging.”

10053 Public Health, Marc Kiviniemi, Portrait

10053 Public Health, Marc Kiviniemi, Portrait

[Photo: Dr. Marc Kiviniemi]

Dr. Orom’s research will utilize a two-part strategy to collect observational evidence and experimental evidence for the pathways underlying uncertainty about risk, with the experimental evidence used to test strategies for decreasing risk uncertainty.

“Our primary objective is to really analyze and understand the mechanisms leading individuals to answer ‘don’t know’ in response to risk perception questions.  We want to examine how factors relating to knowledge and health literacy, as well as factors related to defensive information avoidance influence this don’t know responding.”

The research is significant, according to Dr. Orom, because it examines a key, but understudied phenomenon related to a central decision making and behavior change construct – uncertainty about perceived risk for illness.

“With successful completion of this research, we can generate tested strategies for developing more effective behavior change messaging for individuals who are uncertain about their risk for common illness and perhaps more importantly, our work has potential to address behavior change factors that contribute to ongoing health disparities.”

Other contributing members to the research study include principle investigator Dr. Jennifer Hay, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Erika Waters, Washington University; and Dr. Yuelin Li, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

University at Buffalo offers graduate degree level programs and is the home to five departments; biostatistics, exercise and nutrition sciences, community health and health behavior, rehabilitation science and epidemiology and environmental health. It is one of only a few schools across the country that includes health-related professions as an integral component of the public health educational and research system. The University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions is located on the South Campus of University at Buffalo in Kimball Tower. For more information about the school, visit www.sphhp.buffalo.edu.