African-American women have the least optimal cardiovascular (CV) health as outlined by the American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7 (AHA LS7) among all female racial/ethnic groups in the United States. They are also the most physically inactive group. These and other modifiable and biological risk factors such as poor diet, obesity and diabetes combined account for the leading cause of death in African-American women; cardiovascular disease (CVD). I currently lead an innovative research program through the Mayo Clinic called FAITH! (Fostering African-American Improvement in Total Health) which seeks to address this critical issue through the use of a novel mobile health (mHealth) lifestyle intervention to improve CV health and wellness among African-Americans. The intervention is a multimedia, interactive digital application (app) that delivers cardiovascular health education centered around the AHA LS7 to promote healthy behavioral change.
Women are the centerpiece of the African-American community, particularly in the faith community, and have significant influence on the health behaviors of others at church, home and within their neighborhoods. Our project builds upon our prior face-to-face health education program in partnership with African-American churches as we utilized a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to the design and development of the study. The majority of the FAITH! study participants are African-American women, which reflects the demographic of the African-American church. The study includes education modules, self-assessments, a shared discussion board and tracks health behaviors such as diet and physical activity. By enrolling both men and women in our study, we are able to examine sex/gender differences in outcomes and the use of mobile technologies in supporting behavior change, an area that has not been fully elucidated in our study population. Thus far, participants in our program have seen significant improvements in key CV health factors including improved blood pressure control, increased fruit/vegetable intake and doubling of time spent engaging in physical activity.
Our project has championed a culture that recognizes the importance of women’s health research and the inclusion of racial/ethnic minority women in clinical trials within the field of academic cardiology. FAITH! aligns well with my personal goal of improving the CV health of African-Americans, particularly women who are disproportionately affected by CVD. The research focus of the project is the embodiment of interdisciplinary through the integration of several disciplines; cardiovascular disease, preventive medicine, behavioral science, health disparities, community-based participatory research, population health and women’s health. Through our work, I hope to truly transform the way we conduct women’s health research in underserved populations, particularly among African-Americans, and to disseminate the knowledge gained for the benefit of all patients.
More about FAITH!: