Researchers receive grant for community-based participatory research

Researchers from The University of Alabama were awarded a three-year, $800,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and support collaborative research between academic researchers and residents of Alabama communities disproportionately impacted by poor health.

The grant project, “Developing Effective, Sustainable CBPR to Reduce Obesity in Rural Alabama,” is a partnership of the College of Community Health Sciences’ Institute for Rural Health Research, the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ Institute for Communication and Information Research and the Black Belt Community Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization that works to improve the health and quality of life of citizens living in the 12 Black Belt counties it serves.

The grant’s principal investigators are: John C. Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for research for the College of Community Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research; Kim Bissell, PhD, associate dean for research for the College of Communication and Information Sciences and director of the Institute for Communication and Information Research; and Felecia Jones, MBA, executive director of the Black Belt Community Foundation.

The grant was funded by the Community Based Participatory Research Initiative of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, an institute of the NIH.

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is research that is conducted as an equal partnership between traditionally trained research scientists and members of a community. CBPR is unique in that CBPR projects allow community members to participate fully in all aspects of the research process.

“Communities have lots of great ideas about how to deal with issues, but they do not always have the resources to put those ideas into action,” Higginbotham says. “With this project, we hope to create an infrastructure that will bring together the expertise of the community with academic partners and together develop ways to improve the health of communities, particularly in regard to obesity and related diseases.”

The University’s three-year planning grant will create a research training program to provide education and training to academic researchers interested in conducting CBPR research in the Black Belt and to build the CBPR capacity of Black Belt residents. A research incubator will be developed to guide future research projects aimed at addressing obesity within the project’s defined Black Belt communities. A dissemination network will be developed to facilitate internal communication and public awareness of this project and its goals. And a community advisory board will be established to provide oversight for all aspects of the project.

The initiative is designed to promote collaborative research between scientific researchers and members of their communities through the joint design and implementation of research projects targeting health disparities in racial and ethnic minorities or other underserved populations. The goal is to foster sustainable efforts at the community level that will speed the translation of research advances to underserved populations and reduce or eliminate health disparities.

Key personnel on the grant will work to educate and train state researchers and residents of Alabama’s rural and impoverished Black Belt region to conduct community-based participatory research intended to reduce health disparities. Under this initiative, scientific researchers and Black Belt community members will work together to design and implement research projects to address major health issues, particularly obesity.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 32 percent of the population in the state of Alabama is considered obese, greater than the national average of 27 percent. Those percentages are higher in some Black Belt counties, which range between 39 percent and 47 percent for adults and greater than 20 percent for school-age children, according to the CDC.

These percentages suggest that adults and children in the Black Belt, which is plagued with high unemployment and limited access to health care, are at a disproportionately higher risk for obesity-related health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The CBPR Initiative is a long-term commitment by NIMHD with potential continuous funding for up to 11 years for CBPR projects, including The University of Alabama project. The initiative has three phases: a three-year planning phase that allows grantees to develop partnerships, conduct community needs assessments, identify the disease or condition to research and conduct pilot research studies; a five-year phase during which CBPR research grants will be awarded competitively; and a three-year phase during which dissemination research grants will be provided to grantees from phase two who have shown that their research can improve the health status of underserved populations.

Key research areas selected by the NIMHD CBPR Initiative include cancer, cardiovascular disease, child health improvement, HIV/AIDS, obesity prevention and diabetes.