A Culturally Sensitive Approach to Weight Loss

Black women participants are sought for a $2.1 million research project targeting obesity.

By: Jesef Williams

UF Health researchers are looking for primary care patients to take part in a study targeting obesity among black women. The weight-loss study is being funded by a $2.1 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

Studies show that among all race and gender subgroups, black women have the highest incidence of obesity in the United States. More than half — 57 percent — of black women are obese. The disease increases the likelihood of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases, and decreases quality of life and life expectancy. However, black women have been underrepresented in weight-loss trials and weight-loss maintenance studies.

This study seeks women who are already patients in the UF Health Jacksonville primary care network and have had at least two visits with their primary care physician within the past two years. Participants must be black, 21 or older and have a body mass index of 30 or more.

Community health workers have been hired specifically to facilitate a program called Health-Smart, which will encourage dieting, healthy food choices and exercise. Cultural beliefs about weight will also be addressed, says Lori Bilello, PhD, a co-investigator and research assistant professor of medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

“A core theme of this program is that lifestyle issues, and not necessarily genetics, are causing weight gain,” Bilello said. “We want to focus on the habits, choices and mindsets.”

The program, which is free of charge for patient participants, begins in June and will be implemented at 20 of the UF Health primary care practices in Jacksonville. The aim is to have at least 680 participants.

During this six-month program, patients will meet for weekly or biweekly sessions, with the goal of all participants losing at least 5 percent of their body weight in that time. After the six months, participants will periodically meet with their primary care physician to discuss ways to maintain their new weight or lose even more weight.

As part of the study, half of the participating physicians will be trained beforehand to implement a “patient-centered, culturally sensitive” weight-loss maintenance program while the others will use a “standard behavioral” approach. The first approach involves greater emphasis on making the patients feel respected and comfortable talking about their weight and overall health. The latter focuses more on using empirical data to motivate patients.

Patients will meet with the physicians for a year, and researchers will compare the differences between the two approaches at the end of the project. Sustained weight loss will be measured, as well as biometrics such as blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Questionnaires will also be involved.

Carolyn Tucker, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program on the Gainesville campus, will serve as principal investigator of the project. Nipa Shah, MD, a professor and chair of community health and family medicine at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, is the co-principal investigator.

“I am confident this project will be successful because it will be implemented using a partnership approach that involves community health workers, community stakeholders, patients, researchers, insurance companies and primary care providers,” Tucker said. “Furthermore, the lead researchers in this partnership, as well as others involved in implementing this project, are genuinely committed to empowering black women patients to take charge of their weight and health.”

If you are interested in participating in the study or serving in an advisory capacity, contact Erica Guerrido at Erica.Guerrido@jax.ufl.edu or 244.9276.