New $10 million grant to reduce heart disease in Lenoir County

May 3, 2010-- Residents of Lenoir County will have access to customized programs and strategies designed to reduce heart disease and stroke through a new 5-year community-based research project awarded to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH).

The new UNC-CH project is one of 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to understand and address inequities associated with the two leading causes of death in the United States – cancer and heart disease. The 10 centers are supported by the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Cancer Institute and the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research.

The project is a partnership between the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and East Carolina University (ECU) and will call on community members to advise the entire research process.

“Lenoir County seems to be on the buckle of the stroke belt we so commonly refer to,” said Joey Huff, Director of the Lenoir County Health Department.  “Heart disease is one of the health department’s focus areas to improve the health of our community. I see this project as a significant resource to our Lenoir County residents to improve their health status and reduce morbidity and mortality due to heart disease.”

The first step of the project will be to examine heart health programs and services currently offered in the county. Researchers will also examine lifestyle issues such as diet, exercise and smoking as well as genetic, racial, neighborhood and economic factors associated with heart disease. The new center will also explore opportunities for entrepreneurial efforts that address health and also have the potential to create future jobs.  After the initial review of current programs, and discussions with community partners, researchers will work with clinics in the county to implement new programs designed to meet the specific needs of Lenoir County residents and then begin recruiting participants.

“Anyone who is currently diagnosed with hypertension and has an interest in exploring a community-based approach to incorporate with their physician’s plan should think about participating in the project,” said Huff.  The project will also offer a lifestyle and weight loss program for up to 400 community members and will work toward changing the community environment to make healthier lifestyles an easier choice for everyone.

The project will be based at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. The center’s director, Alice Ammerman, Dr.PH., professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is project co-leader along with Dr. Cam Patterson, Chief of  the Division of Cardiology at UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute. Patterson and Drs. Darren DeWalt and Tom Keyserling, assistant and associate professors, respectively, in the UNC School of Medicine, will lead three related research projects within the center. The ECU team is led by Doyle M. Cummings, Pharm.D., a pharmacist and professor of family medicine, and Stephanie Jilcott, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health.

“This project gives us the opportunity to bring together a multidisciplinary research team with a wide variety of community partners in Lenoir County to tackle hypertension and heart disease from prevention to treatment,” said Ammerman.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, and our goal at UNC is to change that statistic by finding ways to prevent it and treat it,” said Patterson, whose specialty is determining genetic factors of the disease.” This project allows us to demonstrate our dedication to that goal, and we are especially grateful to the people of Lenoir County for helping us lead the way.”

The center researchers will create a community advisory committee to help guide the project. Huff and Constance Hengel, director of community programming and development at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, worked with researchers to develop the grant proposal and will continue this collaboration.

“Our community leaders know each other well and collaboration on projects is not new to this group,” said Hengel. “As the plans evolved for the project, community health leaders met to talk about community health strengths and weaknesses.”

Hengel added she and others are excited that the local advisory partnership will continue to work to execute the project in order to positively impact the residents of Lenoir County.

HPDP CONTACT: Sonya Sutton, ssutton@unc.edu ; 919-966-4118