Partnering with NC Community Colleges to Prevent Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death in North Carolina (NC). Intervening to modify lifestyle behaviors (diet, physical activity, smoking, and obesity) is critical to reducing cancer incidence and mortality. Community colleges are located in most NC communities and offer great potential as a setting for cancer prevention interventions because of their broad reach to populations with the greatest cancer-related disparities. North Carolina has the third largest community college system in the nation. However, only 28% of NC community colleges reported implementing health promoting interventions for employees, and the literature includes few reports of community college-initiated interventions for students, employees, or the community.

In this study, UNC researchers and the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) formed a collaborative research partnership with the goal of understanding community college motivations, preferences, resources and needs related to adopting and implementing cancer prevention-related evidence-based activities for their students, employees and community residents.

Findings: All (100% of) Presidents (n=58) responded to a UNC-sponsored survey; results revealed that 90% believe it is very/extremely important to offer health promotion programs to employees. Over 60% of community college Presidents report having an employee wellness committee in place but only 11% have a budget dedicated to employee health. Employee-related policies and environmental supports (e.g., smoke-free campus, walking trails, and access to healthy foods in the cafeteria) varied widely and there is room for improvement.  Further, results indicated that larger community colleges were more likely to offer health promotion programs than smaller community colleges. The most common types of health programs included a focus on physical activity, tobacco cessation, weight loss (and/or weight management), and nutrition and/or healthy eating. Physical activity facilities and the presence of a cafeteria were also more common at large (vs. smaller) community colleges. The implications are that community colleges should find creative, cost-effective ways (e.g., leveraging existing campus resources, using distance learning to secure training and support) to implement and sustain comprehensive health promotion programs, particularly on smaller campuses.

The surveys revealed that interest in receiving technical assistance and support to offer evidence-based health programs for employees is high, which will be the basis of the next research partnership. The data will be used to develop a menu of evidence-based interventions suitable for community colleges and to identify the types of technical assistance and support needed to help community colleges build capacity to increase adoption and implementation of cancer prevention programs for the communities they serve.

Geographic area(s) served: Statewide

Research team:
Laura Linnan, ScD, professor of health behavior (principal investigator); Adam Goldstein, MD, MPH professor of family medicine and director of the UNC Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program; Jennifer Leeman, DrPH, MDIV, assistant professor of nursing; Cathy Melvin, PhD; Deborah Tate, PhD, associate professor of health behavior and nutrition; Bryan Weiner, PhD, professor of health policy and management; Kim Chantala, MS, and Lori Stravers, MPH, CHES, study staff; Carolyn Naseer, MA, Project Manager.

For more information about the community college pilot research study, contact Laura Linnan at linnan@email.unc.edu.

This video describes the collaborative research partnership formed with the NC Community College System to understand their role in preventing cancer: Watch video