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University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researcher Scott Okamoto, received the 2023 Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research (SPR). Okamoto was recognized for his contributions in developing and testing cancer prevention strategies in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, making him the first researcher from Hawaiʻi to receive this award for significant work. For the first time, SPR is recognizing the work being conducted in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with this award.

Scott Okamoto
Scott Okamoto

SPR is an organization dedicated to advancing the scientific investigation on the prevention of social, physical and mental health problems, and on the translation of that information to promote health and well-being. The Prevention Science Award is given to an individual or team of individuals for a significant body of research that has applied scientific methods to test one or more preventive interventions or policies.

This commendation from SPR was achieved through Okamoto’s extensive work since 2006 in developing and evaluating a culturally-grounded, school-based tobacco and drug prevention curriculum for rural Native Hawaiian youth attending public intermediate schools on Hawaiʻi Island. The curriculum, Hoʻouna Pono, to send with righteousness, has educated more than 480 students by focusing on drug use resistance skills training using interactive activities, facilitated discussions and realistic video content.

“Dr. Okamoto’s work is integrated into the Hawaiʻi community and has impacted thousands of students through shifting their trajectory and delaying onset of substance use concerns,” said Kelsie Okamura, implementation researcher, Harvard University. “His research creates a path to independence for other scholars, social workers, and substance use prevention professionals who desire to serve those in communities that need them the most.”

Okamoto earned his PhD in social welfare from the UH Manoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. He is currently working to develop a new curriculum for e-cigarette prevention. The vision earned him a $2.8 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This intervention will update the existing Hoʻouna Pono curriculum and introduce new e-cigarette and vaping prevention content, including a social and print media campaign, across intermediate and multi-level public and public charter schools on Hawaiʻi Island. More than 500 students are anticipated to enroll in this study over five years.

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