Report highlights need for more behavioral and social science research training at NIH

November 18, 1999

Behavioral and social factors are implicated in nine out of 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. However, less than 10 percent of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research training funds went to the behavioral and social sciences, a new report shows.

Research conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Health on behalf of the Health and Behavior Alliance analyzed NIH-provided research training data, reviewed activities at each NIH institute, presented findings from interviews with trainees and advisors, and made recommendations to NIH and policymakers.

"Behavioral and psychosocial factors influence the onset of some diseases, the progression of many, and the management of nearly all. We will never be able to realize the full promise of advances in biomedicine without a fuller understanding of these factors," said Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Health. "To do so, however, we must increase the amount and effectiveness of research training to build the nation's capacity to conduct interdisciplinary health and behavior research."

The report found that NIH in 1998 spent $64 million on behavioral and social science research training, out of $659 million spent on research training overall. This report represents the first comprehensive effort to study NIH-supported behavioral and social science research training.

"NIH and its institutes need to weigh the expected future burden of morbidity and mortality related to behavioral and social factors in health and disease," said Gruman. "They must fund the training and other programs that will equip scientists with the skills and knowledge to understand not only the mechanisms underlying these effects, but also develop interventions to ameliorate them."

Overall, behavioral and social science research trainees and their advisors interviewed for the report had high opinions of NIH training grants and felt that the most important priority was to make more such opportunities available.

The report examined behavioral and social science research training on an institute by institute basis. Two institutes (the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health) spent over 30 percent of their FY 1998 training funds on the behavioral and social sciences, while eight institutes spent five percent or less.

"One reason for low funding of behavioral and social sciences training may be that fewer applications are submitted," said Gruman. "We found that several factors influence the applicants decisions to apply for training grants, including knowledge and encouragement, compensation, preparation time, and perceived competition."

Full and condensed versions of the report, "Cultivating Capacity: Advancing NIH Research Training in the Health-Related Behavioral and Social Sciences," are available from the Center for the Advancement of Health. Please contact to order.

The report was written by staff from the Center for the Advancement of Health with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. It was prepared on behalf of the Health and Behavior Alliance, a group of 26 professional research societies working together to increase the priority of and resources devoted to health and behavior research.

The Center for the Advancement of Health focuses on the interactions of mental and physical states that influence health and illness, and the implications of these interactions for the design, operation, and effectiveness of the health care system.

The Health and Behavior Alliance is a group of 26 professional research societies working together to increase the priority of and resources devoted to health and behavior research. Current activities focus on: The Center for the Advancement of Health staffs the Alliance and regularly publishes the electronic newsletter HABIT (Health and Behavior Information Transfer), which provides information to the Health and Behavior Research Community.
Current Member Organizations of the Health and Behavior Alliance: Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine, American Academy of Nursing, American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, American Pain Society, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Div. 22, American Psychological Association, Div. 38, American Psychological Society, American Psychosomatic Society, American Society for Psychosocial and Behavioral Oncology/AIDS, American Sociological Association, Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine, College on Problems of Drug Dependence, Gerontological Society of America, Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, International Psycho-Oncology Society, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Society of Behavioral Medicine, Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Society for Psychophysiological Research, Society for Public Health Education, Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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