Justin Dickerson

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Researchers from the Program on Healthy Aging at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health, under the direction of Regents Professor Marcia G. Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., recently led a collaboration of investigators in studying how young adults perceive their risk for developing chronic disease over their life course.

The lead author of the study, Justin B. Dickerson, M.B.A., a second-year doctoral student in health services research at TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health, developed the methodology, which also was recently nominated by the statistics section of the American Public Health Association (APHA) as one of six finalists in the annual student poster competition to be announced at the APHA national conference this November in Washington, D.C.

The goal of the study, published in the June 27 issue of the Journal of Health Psychology, was to see if there were variables that explained differences in perceived risks among the college-aged population for developing diabetes. Since chronic disease prevention and management are a key component of healthy aging, conducting the study was seen as a beneficial way to understand these perceptions earlier in adulthood when beliefs about health behaviors are still being formed.

The research results found that racial and ethnic minority populations in the study demonstrated a heightened awareness of developing diabetes earlier in life and throughout their life course. Second, the study established that genetic risk factors such as family history are erroneously viewed as more predictive of development of diabetes than behavioral factors such as eating and exercise habits.

The researchers said the finding reminds public health practitioners of the need to educate individuals about the true causes of disease and the role individual decision-making can play in chronic disease avoidance and management.

Study authors were Dickerson; Matthew Lee Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H., CHES, adjunct assistant professor, TAMHSC–School of Rural Public Health; Erica Sosa, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor, The University of Texas at San Antonio; E. Lisako McKyer, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, Texas A&M University; and Dr. Ory.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell