Heart Healthy Lenoir investigator has unique perspective on research

The Heart Healthy Lenoir project seeks to improve cardiovascular health in Lenoir County using input from the community. Stephanie Jilcott offers a unique perspective on the research team, as she has been an eastern NC community member, UNC-CH student and now an ECU co-investigator.

Jilcott was born in Windsor, NC, in Bertie County, and is an assistant professor of public health at East Carolina University. Jilcott received a doctorate in nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in 2006. Alice Ammerman, director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) advised Jilcott and provided her the opportunity to work on several community-based projects.  Jilcott said her student experience was a great starting point for her career.


“Goodness, yes, I learned so much from work at HPDP,” Jilcott said with a laugh. “I just learned more about grant proposals and paper writing. I also learned how to work on a team, and about the importance and logistics of communication on a team. It was definitely a positive thing.”

Although Jilcott has plenty of prior experience in projects like Heart Healthy Lenoir, she still says being the co-investigator is a definitely a change in pace.

“As an investigator, I’ve had to learn to have bigger picture mentality than as a student,” Jilcott said.

Jilcott added that dealing with management and administrative issues for the first time is very new to her and has changed her perspective. 

Heart Healthy Lenoir is based at HPDP is one of 10 centers for Population Health and Health Disparities funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have been asked to address the two leading causes of death in the United States – cancer and heart disease. The project features a unique collaboration between UNC Chapel Hill and East Carolina University.

Lenoir County has previously been called the buckle of the stroke belt, because of the high rate of heart disease among residents. However, the unique community environment and helpful resources make it a great place to do research.

Currently, Jilcott said the investigators are learning as much as they can about Lenoir County. In addition, Jilcott said the research team is looking at a variety of nutrition and physical activity resources on the Internet in order to create a list of resources for residents to use to reduce heart disease risk. 

The team, including Jared McGuirt and Andy Perrin, has taken a windshield tour, where one drives through a community to get a quick introduction by seeing it through the residents’ eyes. They will soon conduct in-depth interviews with health care providers and patients in the area.

“We’re working on community mapping,” Jilcott said. “We’re looking at Lenoir County and looking at what assets the residents have to facilitate healthy lifestyle changes.”

After all the background and initial research is done, the team will implement programs to help Lenoir County residents reduce heart disease risk in a positive, healthy way.

“The project and research is so important to me because I’m from eastern North Carolina and there are a lot of health disparities in this part of the state. I like that I get to contribute to informing what happens in this important research project.” Jilcott said.

By Becky Bush
Communications Intern