The University of Alabama

UA Researchers Receive Grant for Community-Based Research

From left, Felecia Jones, executive director of the Selma, Ala.-based Black Belt Community Foundation; Dr. Kim Bissell, associate dean for research for the College of Communication and Information Sciences and director of the Institute for Communication and Information Research; and Dr. John C. Higginbotham, associate dean for research for the College of Community Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research.

Standing, from left, are Felecia Jones, Dr. Kim Bissell and Dr. John C. Higginbotham.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — 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, “UNITED: Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities,” 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 nonprofit 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: Dr. John C. Higginbotham, associate dean for research for the College of Community Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research; Dr. Kim Bissell, 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, 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, or CBPR, is research that is conducted as an equal partnership between traditionally trained research scientists and community members. CBPR is unique in that those 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 said. “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.”

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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, ranging 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.

“Alabama has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the nation, so this project will work to develop that community-based infrastructure that will help parents, educators and community members learn about health, nutrition and exercise,” Bissell said. “Leaders in Black Belt counties will be working with us to develop this infrastructure.”

The University’s three-year planning grant will focus on reducing obesity in rural Alabama and will create a research training program to provide education and training to academic researchers interested in conducting community-based participatory research research in the rural 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 University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Kim Eaton, UA media relations, 205/348-8325, kkeaton@ur.ua.edu; Leslie Zganjar, director of communications of Institute for Rural Health Research, 205/348-3079, lzganjar@cchs.ua.edu; M.K. Alsip, assistant research scientist for Institute for Communication and Information Research, 205/348-1235, mkalsip@ua.edu
  • SOURCE: Felecia Jones, executive director of the Black Belt Community Foundation, 334/328-9308, fjones@blackbeltfound.org