Program aims to improve heart health among African American men through coaching and mentoring

March 9, 2016 by Tiffany Westry, University of Alabama at Birmingham

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 44 percent of African American men have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke. In 2013, heart disease was the leading cause of death for African American men ages 35-54. Despite the well-known benefits of exercise, participation in exercise and dietary interventions remain lower among this group compared to others.

University of Alabama at Birmingham assistant professor Larrell Wilkinson, Ph.D., hopes to lower these statistics with the launch of a program to promote healthy behaviors among African American men. The HEART Matters Program offers coaching to African American men who are overweight or obese and have the desire to become healthier. The program aims to promote a more active lifestyle, healthier diet, better stress management and rest among black men.

"Growing up, my parents led very busy lives", said Wilkinson. "I ate a lot of fast food. Those habits continued in college. When I obtained adequate health insurance and began scheduling regular doctor's visits, it was revealed to me that I had high cholesterol and with subsequent visits I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I had doctors who took the time to talk to me and explain that if I continued on that trajectory, I may not see the age of 40. That motivated me to make changes in my own life. That experience, coupled with what we know statistically about within this population is what motivated me to start the HEART Matters program."

The study gathers information on the knowledge, practices, and attitudes regarding physical activity, sleep, and diet among overweight and obese African American men. This information will help to identify a health intervention strategy to improve health-promoting behaviors and may help lower the burden of chronic disease among African American men.

Understanding the barriers and motivational factors which influence lifestyle change among racial and ethnic minority males across the life cycle, represents a crucial gap in the field and is one of the primary objectives of the project.

"It's important to look at the person as a whole, who they are and what their personal experiences are," said Wilkinson. "We must take into account the contextual, individual and behavioral circumstances that a person may be going through. These men work different jobs. They have different family life, responsibilities and challenges. These things combined can put stress on a person, and cause them to put their families first and themselves last on their list of priorities. We can create a tailored plan based on what we learn about each individual to help them prioritize their health."

African American men ages 24-75 can participate in the program. After an initial survey and weight measurement, participants will have regular communication with Wilkinson and his team to receive health coaching for 90 days. Afterward, the team will reassess their health through a survey and weight measurement. Participants can also volunteer to participate in . Exercise testing provides a fitness profile, similar to what many have seen athletes undergo. Those who are successful in meeting their fitness goals will be asked to become health mentors. Mentors will be trained to help their friends and other men improve their health through setting and meeting fitness goals. Overall, the goal of the program is to help African American improve their health and wellness by working together.

There is no cost to join the program. Participants will be accepted through the end of March. For more information contact Larrell Wilkinson, Ph.D., at (205) 975-1295, email him at or click here.

Explore further: Place could impact health disparities more than race

Related Stories

Place could impact health disparities more than race

October 28, 2015
African American and white men who live in racially integrated communities and who have comparable incomes have far fewer differences when it comes to behaviors that contribute to poor health—such as physical inactivity, ...

Physician discusses heart disease in women

February 25, 2016
Heart disease has been the number-one killer of women for decades, but it is still an under-recognized problem. The Women's Heart and Vascular Program, directed by Yale School of Medicine's Dr. Lisa Freed, aims to change ...

Preventing Alzheimer's in African-Americans by strengthening the brain

March 1, 2016
A major effort is underway to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia for older African Americans. Neuroscientist Mark Gluck of Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) is leading a team that will use a ...

Black men place family and community above their own health

July 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Black men place a higher priority on fulfilling social roles such as family provider, father, husband and community member than they do on physical activity—and their health suffers because they don't ...

Healthy lifestyle advice provides long-term benefits

March 7, 2016
In a recently published study, providing advice over a 5-year period about leading a healthy lifestyle reduced the risk of heart-related deaths over the next 40 years.

Young African-Americans underestimate stroke risk, according to nursing study

February 1, 2016
Young African-Americans often hold a distorted view of their personal risk for a stroke, two nursing researchers at Georgia State University's Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions say in a recently published ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.