CDC Awards $1 Million Grant for Familias Unidas Study

A Miller School researcher has been awarded a $1 million grant to further study Familias Unidas, the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health’s evidence-based intervention designed to prevent problem behaviors in Hispanic youth.

The early-career grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was awarded to David Cordova, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow. Cordova’s study aims to address health disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites, particularly as they relate to HIV and drug use in Hispanic adolescents, primarily using an Internet-based iteration of the successful Familias Unidas program.

Familias Unidas, which was developed at the Miller School about 15 years ago, is a Hispanic-specific, family-based intervention designed to prevent problem behaviors, including conduct disorders, illicit drug use, alcohol use, tobacco use, and sexual risk behaviors by improving family functioning—such as parent-adolescent communication and family support—among Hispanic youth ages 12-17. It is the only behavioral intervention program designed specifically for Hispanic adolescents and their families that has been shown to be effective in preventing and reducing smoking, illicit drug use, the display of behavior problems, and unsafe sexual behavior.

“The intent here is to develop the best web-based version of the Familias Unidas intervention that can be used to more effectively target at-risk populations and hopefully increase participation rates,” said Cordova. “We’ll test the efficacy of the web-based version compared to the standard face-to-face version of Familias Unidas, and to prevention-as-usual control groups in preventing unprotected sexual behavior and drug use in a community sample of Hispanic adolescents living in Miami-Dade County.”

As with the current Familias Unidas program, participants will be drawn from the Miami-Dade public school system. About 270 students from three high schools, along with parents or their guardians, will be involved in the new study.

Cordova’s mentor, Guillermo Prado, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology and public health, explained that one of the limitations of many avenues of behavioral interventions, particularly regarding HIV and drug use, is the difficulty of implementation because some participants have problems attending the sessions at the time they are scheduled.

“That imposes huge barriers,” said Prado, noting that attendance for Familias Unidas sessions has been around 70 percent in recent studies, which is better than the average for such programs. “This new method comes with a lot of flexibility, which should be helpful in our target population where parents often work into the evening when group sessions are normally scheduled. Members of these households often have multiple jobs and babysitting responsibilities. An Internet-based program would allow them to participate at a convenient time and from the comfort of their home.”

Prado, also the acting director for the Division of Epidemiology and Population Health Sciences and co-director for the Division of Prevention Science and Community Health, received a similar early-career grant in 2005. He still works extensively on Familias Unidas initiatives. If Cordova’s web-based format works well, Prado says, it could make it easier to roll out the program to many more communities and effect change at a population level.

In addition to Cordova’s funding, the CDC awarded seven other early-career grants, including a second one to the Miller School. Margaret Pereyra, Dr.P.H., research assistant professor of epidemiology and public health, was awarded $662,800 over four years for her study titled “Patient Acceptance of HIV Rapid Testing in the Dental Care Setting.”

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