Center for Research on Diet, Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease (Project EXPORT)

Through USDA, the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences established the Center forResearch on Diet, Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease in African Americans in the early ’90s.  Initially, the Center’s emphasis was focused mainly on sweetpotato greens (the last four inches of leaves on the tip of a sweetpotato vine runner are highly nutritional) and their nutritional content and functional components in relation to cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention.

Currently, there is a high incidence of cardiovascular disease among Black Alabamians, and in our research and outreach programs we are determined to address this matter.  Today, the Department along with USDA working through the George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station, the National Institutes of Health through its National Center for Minority Health Disparities and Tuskegee’s NASA/CFESH Center carries out activities that involve the collection, analysis and interpretation of data to be used to plan dietary intervention programs that promote health throughout the life cycle. The Department also develops, tests, and disseminates food and nutrition education activities and materials aimed at decreasing CVD and coronary heart disease (CHD) in target populations, namely African American Alabamians.

Tuskegee University Nutrition Outreach Program (TUNOP)

The current NIH research grant, Excellence in Partnership for Community Outreach, Research on Health Disparities and Training (Project EXPORT)--Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Research Core, funded the Tuskegee University Nutrition Outreach Program (TUNOP).  The grant’s overall mission is to reduce health disparities in the rural Black Belt counties of Alabama. The targeted objective of the present research is to reduce CVD, a diet-related condition, by 10% annually in the Macon County African-American community.  Cardiovascular disease heavily impacts the majority of African-Americans living in the rural Black Belt counties of Alabama.  Heart disease ranks as the number one cause of death in the USA and Macon County.

Volunteer participants recruited for TUNOP participated in nutrition education (3 hours per week) classes for three months at either Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church or Friendship Baptist Church in Tuskegee.  Male and female participants were stratified into three age categories: 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 65 respectively, with a total of 60 men and 60 women.  The classes focused on how to make dietary and lifestyle changes that reduce CVD risk--high blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Dietary changes emphasized decreasing overall fat intake to 30% or less of total calories, improving fat quality to include more monounsaturated fat, and elevating blood antioxidant status by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Physical activity for all participants was strongly encouraged. At baseline and at the end of the program, dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires were used to assess the adequacy of nutrient intake.  Blood was collected  to establish lipid, metabolic, antioxidant status [via oxygen free radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) and thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances (TBARS)] etc. levels for comparison at the end of three months and then again six months later.  Lipid and metabolic profiles were determined at the Alabama Reference Laboratories.  These assays tested the effectiveness of the nutrition education intervention program on reducing CVD risk. A trans-theoretical model assessed each participant’s readiness to change or modify specific dietary and lifestyle habits.  The model also identified behaviors that contribute to unhealthy eating patterns in selected African Americans in Macon County.

In summary, TUNOP  focused on providing participants with information to promote changes in their dietary and lifestyle habits which included increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption, modifying the amount and type of fat consumed and increasing their physical activity. The participants met the criteria for involvement--higher than normal Body Mass Index (BMIs) (greater than 25), blood pressure (greater than 120/80), and relatively poor lipid profiles--and were committed to improving their overall health and reducing their risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).  And they did it!  As a result of the information given, they changed their lifestyle behaviors and reduced their risk for CHD as evidenced by a reduction in their BMI, blood pressure and other risk factors. It is expected that they will continue their lifestyle changes over time.  To assist their efforts, community support systems for health are being put in place.

An additional objective will test the effectiveness of nutrition education training for K through 12 teachers on reducing CVD risk in their students. Teachers will attend a six-week training period during which time they will develop teaching modules on reducing CVD risk for incorporation into their educational activities in the classroom.  During the course of the academic school year, teachers will disseminate knowledge gained during the workshops and evaluate the students’ understanding of principles via nutritional awareness evaluations.

If you have nutrition-related questions about your health, you may call 334-727-8162 or email one of the TUNOP program organizers: Drs. Ralphenia D. Pace, gherdp@tuskegee.edu, Beatrice Phillips , ghebwp@tuskegee.edu or Norma Dawkins, ndawkins@tuskegee.edu.