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

March 9, 2016 by Tiffany Westry

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.

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