The Central Pennsylvania Center of Excellence for Research on Pregnancy Outcomes was established at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in 2004 with a $4.7 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (non-formula tobacco settlement funds). Though based at Penn State, the Center included collaborators at the Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania (FHCCP), Franklin and Marshall College (F&M), and Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania (LHUP). The Center originally focused on the health of women prior to and between pregnancies. This focus was innovative in 2004 because most prior research on pregnancy outcomes had included only pregnant women. By the time a woman is pregnant, however, it may be too late to prevent problems in the developing fetus and pregnancy complications for the mother.
The major research effort of the Center was the Central Pennsylvania Women’s Health Study (CePAWHS), an ongoing project that includes: (1) a cohort study of the health of Central Pennsylvania women who were of reproductive age when the study began in 2004, and (2) intervention research to assess the effectiveness of the Strong Healthy Women behavior change program. Developed by Center investigators, Strong Healthy Women is a unique small-group intervention for pre- and interconceptional women, designed to be implemented in either community or clinical settings. In all,over 3,000 women in Central Pennsylvania have participated in the various phases of CePAWHS.
To date, publications based on CePAWHS have:
- Documented key behavioral and health risks for adverse pregnancy outcomes in reproductive-age women
- Documented barriers to receiving age-appropriate clinical preventive services for women in rural and urban communities
- Shown that pre-pregnancy health and health-related behaviors affects women’s weight gain during pregnancy, birthweight, and fetal growth
- Shown how pregnancy intention is related to future pregnancy and to preconceptional health behaviors
- Demonstrated that pre-pregnancy behaviors related to nutrition, physical activity, folic acid supplementation, and stress management can be modified by the Strong Healthy Women program
- Demonstrated that Strong Healthy Women has long-term (12-month) effects on women’s weight and BMI, and also is associated with lower gestational weight gain in women who become pregnant and deliver full-term singletons.
CePAWHS research results have been published in numerous journals.
In 2007, Penn State was awarded a BIRCWH (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health) K12 award from the National Institutes of Health. The BIRCWH program seeks to advance the field of women’s health by providing mentored research career development for junior faculty members interested in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding women’s health or sex/gender differences related to health. The grant provides funding to support 75% effort of junior faculty members (called BIRCWH Scholars) for at least two years so that they can devote that time to research development under the guidance of multidisciplinary mentor teams. At Penn State, BIRCWH Scholars are selected from applicants at both the Hershey and University Park campuses: currently, participating colleges are the College of Medicine, College of Health and Human Development, and College of Liberal Arts. To date, 12 junior faculty members (half of whom are clinicians) have been awarded BIRCWH Scholar positions, and they have been mentored by over 25 senior faculty members in multiple disciplines. A monthly BIRCWH Seminar series alternates between the Hershey and University Park campuses. More information about the BIRCWH program, BIRCWH Scholars, their research projects and mentors, and BIRCWH Seminars may be found at http://www.bircwh.psu.edu/index.html.
In 2011, the name of the Center was changed to the Penn State Center for Women’s Health Research to reflect the expanded research and training agenda in women’s health. Administratively based in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Medicine, the center is overseen by an Executive Committee comprised of current investigators. Currently, Carol S. Weisman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Public Health Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine, coordinates the Executive Committee.
The Center welcomes participation by Penn State faculty members and students interested in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding women’s health and sex/gender issues related to health. The Center offers opportunities for research collaboration, mentoring, datasets and measures, and other resources for developing and conducting women’s health research projects.