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Team Announced to Lead Innovative Community Health Research Project in Appalachia

October 2015

Project Sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky


WASHINGTON, D.C., October 7, 2015—Today the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky announced that PDA, Inc., of Raleigh, North Carolina, will be the lead investigator for "Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia: Disparities and Bright Spots," a regional public health research project exploring health outcomes in Appalachian communities. The University of North Carolina's Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research and Thomas Arcury, PhD, of the Wake Forest School of Medicine will provide additional research expertise.

This research project will document disparities in health outcomes across the Appalachian Region. As part of the project, researchers will develop an interdisciplinary research protocol engaging public health experts, community leaders, and social scientists to determine if any Appalachian communities are experiencing better-than-expected health outcomes despite persistent socioeconomic challenges. Preliminary results are expected in 2017.

"We are pleased that PDA and the University of North Carolina are leading this effort to understand Appalachia's community health landscape," said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. "Their expertise, interdisciplinary methodology, and commitment to the Region will help us learn more about how we can keep Appalachia strong and healthy."

"We are excited to be part of this initiative to recognize and understand Appalachian successes," said PDA President Nancy M. Lane. "Our initial public health research indicates that almost every Appalachian state has at least one area with statistically better-than-expected life spans. This initiative will explore behind this data to discover the human, policy, and other factors that sustain them."

"We know that communities, individuals, and organizations across Appalachia are working together to build a 'Culture of Health'," said David Krol, MD, MPH, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Everyone has a role to play. By sharing our successes, not just our struggles, we will help accelerate change together. We're excited by the opportunity to learn from these great partners and these 'bright spot' communities."

This project is funded jointly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky will administer the project, and ARC will oversee the research activity. PDA, Inc., is a health planning and management consulting firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a 26-year track record of successful health care research and innovation. The Sheps Center, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seeks to improve the health of individuals, families, and populations by understanding the problems, issues, and alternatives in the design and delivery of health care services.

"We are pleased to lend support to this collaborative effort to better understand factors that contribute to or undermine the health of communities throughout Appalachia," said Susan Zepeda, president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "We are going beyond economic and health status data to community conversations that can help us learn more about what it takes to create and sustain a 'culture of health'."

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, building a Culture of Health means creating a society that gives every person an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can—whatever their ethnic, geographic, racial, socioeconomic, or physical circumstance happens to be. A Culture of Health recognizes that health and well-being are greatly influenced by where we live, how we work, the safety of our surroundings, and the strength and connectivity of our families and communities—and not just by what happens in the doctor's office.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission
The Appalachian Regional Commission is a regional economic development partnership of federal and state governments across 420 counties in 13 Appalachian states. ARC's mission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia.

About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky strives to make Kentucky a healthier place to live, work, and raise a family. The foundation makes grants, does research and polling, invests in pilot projects, and informs health policy deliberations in Kentucky with credible data and analysis. The foundation is committed to improving access to care, reducing health risks, and disparities and promoting health equity.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. It is striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at