College works with rural communities to reduce obesity

Obesity is a major issue in the United States but even more so in the state of Alabama. The obesity rate of adults in Alabama is over 32 percent while the national average falls at just 26 percent. One of the main areas of concern in Alabama is the Black Belt region, which has obesity averages above 40 percent.

As part of a community-based participatory research grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health, the College of Community Health Sciences has partnered with The University of Alabama Institute for Communication and Information Research and the Black Belt Community Foundation to make a difference in obesity and related health issues in Black Belt communities. 


“Our goal is to plan and create an infrastructure through which Black Belt communities, current and future family medicine clinicians and interdisciplinary academic researchers can work together to develop effective and sustainable research strategies to reduce or eliminate obesity and related health issues,” says the College’s associate dean for Research and one of the grant’s principal investigators, John C. Higginbotham, PhD, MPH.

The grant project, “UNITED: Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities,” recognizes that cultural awareness and understanding are key to addressing complex health disparities. So, Project UNITED researchers and communities will work as equal partners to build an infrastructure and develop programs that community partners believe are necessary to reduce obesity in their communities. Communities will fund 51 percent of their projects, giving them the ability to make funding decisions.

Project UNITED is currently partnering with the Sunshine School in Newbern, Ala., to address the needs related to reducing obesity in that community.  The school has taken note of several areas in which the project can help, including organizing a health fair with screening for children and parents, repairing the school playground, building a track around the football field, coordinating a school closed circuit television broadcast and hiring a part-time art teacher. Additionally, the project has plans to work with Druid City Garden Project to plant a garden on the school premises.

The Sunshine School is a K-12 school in the Black Belt region of Alabama with 245 students. 

Meanwhile, Project UNITED is currently reviewing applications of researchers and physicians who want to participate in a 10-month workshop designed to enhance the research knowledge and skills of investigators as they relate to community-based participatory research. The selected applicants will be partnered with community members and will compete for a $35,000 Project UNITED grant to implement their proposed research project that is intended to reduce obesity in the rural Black Belt.