Interdisciplinary Research & Labs

Interdisciplinary research and labs at the Appalachian Institute for Health and Wellness bring together experts from various fields to tackle complex health challenges and drive impactful solutions.

Interdisciplinary Research Labs

Family Economic Policy Lab

The Family Economic Policy Lab (FEPL) is committed to advancing social and economic justice for vulnerable families and communities by disseminating rigorous research examining innovative policy solutions.

The purpose of the HOPE Lab (Healthy Outdoor Play & Exercise) is to investigate the role of outdoor physical activity, exercise, and play on health, the environment, and human development.

Aging and Adult Health

The Aging and Adult Health Interdisciplinary Research Group comprises faculty from multiple disciplines interested in all aspects of healthy aging and age-related diseases. Areas of faculty expertise include basic physiology and muscle development across the lifespan, the impact of nutrition and exercise on muscles and health, mild cognitive impairment and dementia, social aspects of aging, and more. Collaborations include the Interprofessional Clinic and community partners such as the Area Agency on Aging and the High Country Caregivers Foundation.


Current Projects

  • Positively Impacting Fall Prevention in the High Country: 3 - year project funded by the Administration for Community Living program through DHHS to provide fall risk assessments and fall prevention classes across seven counties: Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Alleghany, Wilkes, Yancey & Mitchell. Assessments include fall risk and other measures such as cognition and nutrition. Classes provided include Matter of Balance and Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention.

Analysis of Secondary Data to Inform Prevention

The Analysis of Secondary Data to Inform Prevention Interdisciplinary Research Group consists of faculty with multidisciplinary backgrounds who are interested in using secondary data to address public health problems and inform public health prevention.


Current Projects

  • NCHA data analysis and writing group: Faculty in the Public Health program are working collaboratively to analyze and publish data from the American College Health Association’s’ National College Health Assessment. These national data provide important information trends in college students’ health behaviors. Anyone interested in college student health is invited to join these monthly meetings.
  • NC hospitalization data analysis: Faculty across multiple colleges and universities are working with Inpatient, Emergency Room, and Ambulatory Surgery/Outpatient Hospital Data for the entire state of NC to examine trends in mental health, maternal health, and the impacts of extreme events (e.g., wildfire). Datasets are available from 2018 to 2021.
  • Public-Use Derived Data Sets that measure community level measures including racial segregation, income segregation and social determinants of health are derived by project members and available for collaborative outreach and research opportunities. Possible datasets include Census data, Social Determinants of Health Data, and Index Concentration of Extremes (Racial segregation/ Income segregation metrics).

Health Services Innovation & Optimization

The Health Services Innovation and Optimization interest group is for individuals researching and evaluating methods for delivering services that improve the health of individuals and populations. The goal of this interest group is to provide an interdisciplinary, collaborative forum for individuals interested in developing new health service delivery methods as well as understanding and refining the application of existing processes with the goal of improving access, usability, effectiveness, and cost. The focus is not on developing new clinical treatment or diagnostic tools, but to translate the existing clinical evidence base into real world applications. The health service applications studied can range from minor changes in roles, workflows and processes to adoption and utilization of emerging clinical technologies.


Public Health Innovation

Combining the definition with the WHO, APHA, and CDC, public health refers to all organized measures (public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole where they live, learn, work, and play. Our research aims to provide public health support to all entities so they can be responsive to the needs of their communities through multi-disciplinary, collaborative, idea generation and action. Examples of focus points include: Social determinants, scientific data, resiliency building, quality improvement, systems thinking, and inclusive messaging.


Current Projects

  • Monthly Collaborative Meeting (All are invited): This is the platform where folks start to get involved, brainstorming takes place, communities collaborate, and stakeholders start to explore the work.
  • Public Health AmeriCorps, funded by CDC and AmeriCorps: The goals of the project are (1) to recruit, train, and develop new generations of public health leaders ready to respond to public health needs through public health service and capacity building in North Carolina’s rural Appalachian communities. Help meet public health needs of the North Carolina rural Appalachian communities by providing needed capacity and support to local public health preparedness settings in collaboration with state and regional partners, to advance more equitable health outcomes for communities who are currently and historically underserved; (2) provide pathways to good quality public health-related careers by providing exposure through onsite experience, training, and more, with a focus on recruiting PH AmeriCorps members who reflect the communities in which they will serve.
  • Mental Health in NC, funded by NSF (Sugg): Dr. Sugg has a NSF grant on mental health in NC, this group aims to support this work in developing a toolkit and resource communication once the data is analyzed.
  • Supporting Health Equity through Public Health Education Campaigns: A Toolkit (SHEPHECTO), funding pending through AmeriCorps VGF: The goal of SHEPHECTO is to recruit volunteers in rural Appalachia and utilize evidence-based communication strategies to develop a toolkit that will be utilized by trained volunteers to disseminate public health communication in rural Appalachia alongside local stakeholders to improve rural health outcomes.
  • Equitable Approach to Vaccine Verification in Rural Appalachia: Burke County Public Health Director acknowledged a need for literature on vaccine verification processes. This group is developing some strategies to address this need.
  • One Health: Collaboration with the Vet Tech program through the Department of Rural Resilience and Innovation.
  • Moms and Babies in Yancey and Mitchell Counties, funded by Blue Ridge Partnership for Children: The goal is to respond to the needs of families giving birth in Mitchell and Yancey Counties by mapping current resources and exploring how they can change or grow.