URI’s James Prochaska and First Lady Michelle Obama to be honored for contributions to improve public health

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Society for Public Health Education to present awards Oct. 29

KINGSTON, R.I., Oct. 27, 2011 – University of Rhode Island Cancer Prevention Research Center Director James F. Prochaska and First Lady Michelle Obama will be honored this weekend by the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE). Prochaska will be named a 2011 honorary fellow for his lifetime of achievements in improving the theoretical base of the health education field.

Prochaska is well-known for having pioneered the Transtheoretical Model for Behavior Change, which outlines stages of change and readiness for health behavior change. More than three decades old, the model is arguably one of the most widely applied in health education research and practice to stop risky behaviors.

Prochaska’s revolutionary model of behavior change has been applied to more than 50 behaviors and cited thousands of times in published studies in more than 20 languages, making it the most cited model in health behavior change. Prochaska recalled when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to apply his model to help reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

“It was exciting,” Prochaska said, “but it was also really scary. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

A select group of leaders have been named SOPHE honorary fellows including Prochaska’s friend C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general. On receiving the award with Michele Obama, who is being recognized for her national campaign to improve the health and fitness of America’s children, and health educator Michael P. O’Donnell, Prochaska said, “it is an honor to be in their company.”

Prochaska will accept the award and address the SOPHE event participants on Saturday, Oct. 29, in Arlington, Va.

Prochaska said he never expected the model would have been applied as widely and as often as it has, but noted that it is a very inclusive model so its application goes well beyond cancer prevention. It has been applied to behaviors such as smoking, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sun exposure, exercise, and diet. With five stages – precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance – it targets each person’s stage and guides them through the behavior change. An important distinction is that it’s not just for people who are ready to act on a behavior.

“We know that the earlier we reach people, the more likely we are to be successful,” he said. “We are not passively waiting for someone to come to us. They do not have to hit rock bottom before they reach out for help. Wherever you are in your journey, we can work with you.”

The model also challenges long-held stereotypes in the practice of mental health. For example, it has traditionally been believed that smokers who are being treated for depression should not attempt to give up smoking since they may be using smoking as a stimulant. But recently, a University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) study used Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model and reached out to smokers in its depression clinics and found that they were just as successful in quitting as smokers without depression. In another study, the outcome, even for people with severe mental health issues, was less smoking and fewer hospital re-admissions. Prochaska proudly notes that his daughter, Jodi Prochaska, who is on the UCSF faculty, conducted the study.

Prochaska was the first psychologist to win a Medal of Honor for Clinical Research from the American Cancer Society. He is a recipient of an Innovator’s Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and was named one of the Top Five Most Cited Authors in Psychology from the American Psychological Society.

The primary mission of URI’s Cancer Prevention Research Center is to enhance the quality and quantity of life through prevention of cancer, other chronic diseases, and premature death.