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Three Questions with Flavio Marsiglia

Arizona State professor and top researcher Flavio Marsiglia tackles substance abuse and research on prevention programs:

1. Your Keepin’ It Real intervention program has gone global. Can you tell us about the program’s conception and what it’s achieving?

Keepin’it REAL (KiR) was originally developed and tested in Phoenix more than 20 years ago. Our local communities partners identified the need to improve the substance abuse prevention programs available in the middle schools. We received several NIDA/NIH awards and developed and tested the intervention through Randomized Control Trials in partnership with local schools. More than 6,000 7th graders were part of the study. It was found to be efficacious.

2. You’re an expert on drug prevention and the Latino population for the US and your research on cultural diversity and youth substance prevention is highly recognized. These are pretty topical issues, along with your work in obesity and diabetes. Who’s using this research and how?

Although KiR was based in AZ and was developed by and for AZ youth, it is now licensed and commercially available. It is being used in 48 states of the union and in other countries. We never expected that KiR would have such impact but our colleagues in other states and countries tell us that it works in their context. We do not feel one hundred percent comfortable about it. We prefer to have the evidence that it actually works. We like for the intervention to be evaluated in different contexts and then if needed to be culturally adapted. Sometime communities feel that they cannot wait for the research to happen. There is a sense of urgency. It seems that from a community stand point, the research process moves a bit too slow.

There is also an adapted version of KiR for American Indian urban youth, it is called Living in Two Worlds. In this case, the intervention is only being used in AZ. We are trying to expand it to other states with large American Indian communities but we have not yet being successful in securing external funding. We were successful, however, in securing funding from NIDA/NIH to implement a cultural adapted version of KiR in Mexico. We received an R01 award and we are now testing the adapted version called Mantente REAL in the three largest cities in Mexico. More than 7,000 Mexican youth are participating. We have wonderful research partners in Mexico and are very enthusiastic about the potential for taking the intervention to scale at a national level there.

Our diabetes and obesity interventions are in the Randomized Control Trial phase and are mostly focusing on the Latinx community of AZ. We work with teens and their parents and come from a resiliency perspective. One of our interventions works specifically with clinically obese Latinx youth. It is giving us very strong results.

3. Congratulations on winning NDSW’s Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award. The release lists a long history of prolific research. What’s your current or next project, and can you tell us something about it?

We have founded a new center called the “Global Center for Applied Health Research.” I am its founding director and feel very privileged to be working with my local team am=nd partners in 14 countries outside of the US. Much of work emerged from requests to use one of our efficacious interventions. We are conduct cultural adaptations and testing the adapted versions of the interventions in country. Mexico as our neighbor is our priority country where we are involved in two large NIH-funded studies. In the other countries we are developing smaller scale adaptation and feasibility studies. I am traveling a lot. In the last month I was in Mexico, Kenya, England, China and Portugal. I am learning a lot and enjoying all of our international partnerships.

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