Wills, Thomas PhD

HEALTH Initiative Leader - Cancer
Pilot Project PI
Professor (Researcher)
University of Hawaii Cancer Center


Research Overview

2011-2012 RMATRIX Collaboration Pilot Projects Program Awards

Project Description

Title: Discrimination and Substance Abuse Among Adolescents in Hawaii
Principal Investigator: Thomas Wills, PhD, Prevention & Control Program, UH Cancer Center
Co-Principal Investigator: J. Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula, PhD, Dept. of Native Hawaiian Health, UH JABSOM
Collaborator: Frederick Gibbons, PhD, Dept. of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College
RMATRIX HEALTH Initiative(s): Cancer; Aging & Neurocognitive
RMATRIX Funding: $30,000


Discrimination and Substance Abuse Among Adolescents in Hawaii

Health disparities are observed in the population of the state of Hawaii, with particularly elevated rates of morbidity and mortality for Native Hawaiian adults. The basis for these health disparities is believed to originate at earlier ages and involve factors such as psychosocial stress and possibly ethnic discrimination, but there has been little research conducted with young people in Hawaii to address this question. The proposed project, a collaboration between the Prevention and Control Program in the UH Cancer Center and the Native Hawaiian Health Department in JABSOM, is based on preliminary data indicating that Native Hawaiian and Filipino adolescents have elevated rates of cigarette smoking and marijuana use compared with Caucasians or Asian-Americans. We hypothesize that discrimination possibly in combination with other life stressors is involved in the substance use differential. There has been no research we know of on discrimination among local adolescents, so we propose both qualitative and quantitative studies. In the first phase we will conduct focus groups with Native Hawaiian, Filipino, and Asian American adolescents (6 groups, total N = 60 participants) to elicit their perceptions of how discrimination occurs in Hawaii and how people may respond to it. We will use the focus group results to review existing measures of racial/ethnic discrimination and select three measures (possibly with some modifications) for use in a survey. In the second phase we will administer a survey including measures of discrimination and substance use to a sample of students in Honolulu public high schools (N = 1,200 participants). The results will be analyzed to determine the relation of discrimination to substance use and study how its effects are mediated. We anticipate the findings will be used to develop an R01 application with a larger sample from different areas of Hawaii.

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Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (U54MD007584), National Institutes of Health.