Why Small is Too Small a Term: Prevention Science for Health Disparities, Culturally Distinct Groups, and Community-Level Intervention

David Henry, Carlotta Ching Ting Fok, James Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Implications of the Advancing Small Sample Prevention Science Special Section are discussed. Efficiency and precision are inadequately considered in many current prevention-science methodological approaches. As a result, design and analytic practices pose difficulties for the study of contextual factors in prevention, which often involve small samples. Four primary conclusions can be drawn from the Special Section. First, contemporary statistical and measurement approaches provide a number of underutilized opportunities to maximize power. These strategies maximize efficiencies by optimizing design and resource allocation parameters, allowing for the detection of effects with small samples. Second, several alternative research designs provide both rigor and further optimize efficiencies through more complete use of available information, allowing study of important questions in prevention science for which only small samples may be accessible. Third, mixed methods hold promise for enhancing the utility of qualitative data in studies with small samples. Finally, Bayesian analytic approaches, through their use of prior information, allow for even greater efficiencies in work with small samples, and through their introduction in the routines of mainstream software packages, hold particular promise as an emergent methodology in prevention research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1026-1032
Number of pages7
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 29 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This Special Section of the Prevention Science was supported through a grant from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse (R13DA030834, C.C.T. Fok, PI), which funded the conference “Advancing Science with Culturally Distinct Communities: Improving Small Sample Methods for Establishing an Evidence Base in Health Disparities Research” held on 17–18 August 2011 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We thank University of Alaska President’s Professors John Himes, William Knowler, Alan Kristal, Mary Sexton, Nancy Schoenberg, Beti Thompson, and Edison Trickett for their support and input to the application and this conference. Preparation and background to this article was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the National Institute for General Medical Services (T32 DA037183, R21AA016098, RO1AA11446; R21AA01 6098; R24MD001626; P20RR061430).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Society for Prevention Research.


  • Ethnic minority research
  • Health disparities
  • Research methods
  • Small samples
  • Statistical methods


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