Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are not equal-opportunity ills. The number of African Americans affected far outpaces that of whites.
For instance, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, for every six white Americans who have diabetes, 10 African Americans suffer from the same disease. And the odds are against them: Compared to their white counterparts, a greater number will die from, or be disabled by, the disease.
The causes of these health disparities are numerous, insidious and, some would say, insurmountable. But a USC team has joined a coalition of community groups to prove the naysayers wrong.
Led by USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development faculty Michael R. Cousineau and LaVonna Blair Lewis, the USC team includes project manager Lori Miller Nascimento; undergraduate student Erica Clift; clinical consultant Allison Diamant, UCLA; and David Sloane, a professor of policy, planning and development and an expert in community health planning who is providing planning assistance to the project’s coalition of community groups.
The four-year project – known as African Americans Building a Legacy of Health, part of the REACH 2010 (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) federal initiative – began in 2000 with a series of community meetings with such organizations as the Black Health Network and the American Heart Association. Work groups addressed different aspects of the problem, including nutrition/education, policy, racism and the economy/environment. The project – now in year two -– is specifically designed to reduce the high rates of diabetes and heart disease among the African American population in three target areas: Inglewood, North Long Beach and South Los Angeles.
African Americans Building a Legacy of Health is funded by a $4 million grant from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Community Health Councils Inc. and USC. REACH 2010 is one of 26 federally funded programs nationwide aimed at reducing health disparities among America’s ethnic and racial minorities.
“We believe that health disparities can be reduced through community-based disease-management strategies along with prevention activities,” said Cousineau.
The project have identified nine methods of intervention, from offering general information sessions and establishing nutrition and physical-activity promotion programs to developing a media campaign and facilitating neighborhood-based advocacy to improve the quality and availability of healthy foods.
“This is not just about changing the behavior of the individual within the community, but changing the community itself,” said Lewis.
The USC team hopes to measure results by fall.
“This project is the first real concerted and organized effort of its kind,” said Cousineau. “It reflects the concerns of our Surgeon General, David Satcher, who personally brought this to the administration. But Satcher’s term is up in two years, and it’s too early to know whether this project will be maintained.”
But can one project make a substantial difference in a problem so large?
“This effort, by itself, is not going to be enough,” said Cousineau. “We will need significant and ongoing public and private investment to effect change. Yet I’m more hopeful than when we started that we’ll accomplish some small but important milestones. We’ll see what can happen when communities have ownership of health, a voice.”
The African Americans Building a Legacy of Health project invites interested staff, faculty and student volunteers to help out in a variety of ways. Call the USC Center for Community Health Evaluation and Planning at (213) 821-0702.