NIH Primary and Secondary Prevention Research in Humans During 2012–2017

Published:October 25, 2018DOI:


      This paper provides the first detailed analysis of the NIH prevention research portfolio for primary and secondary prevention research in humans and related methods research.


      The Office of Disease Prevention developed a taxonomy of 128 topics and applied it to 11,082 projects representing 91.7% of all new projects and 84.1% of all dollars used for new projects awarded using grant and cooperative agreement activity codes that supported research in fiscal years 2012–2017. Projects were coded in 2016–2018 and analyzed in 2018.


      Only 16.7% of projects and 22.6% of dollars were used for primary and secondary prevention research in humans or related methods research. Most of the leading risk factors for death and disability in the U.S. were selected as an outcome in <5% of the projects. Many more projects included an observational study, or an analysis of existing data, than a randomized intervention. These patterns were consistent over time.


      The appropriate level of support for primary and secondary prevention research in humans from NIH will differ by field and stage of research. The estimates reported here may be overestimates, as credit was given for a project even if only a portion of that project addressed prevention research. Given that 74% of the variability in county-level life expectancy across the U.S. is explained by established risk factors, it seems appropriate to devote additional resources to developing and testing interventions to address those risk factors.
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