Pioneering Paths to Maternal Health Equity: Dr. Sharon J. Herring’s Visit Illuminates Solutions at February FAC Seminar

Pioneering Paths to Maternal Health Equity: Dr. Sharon J. Herring’s Visit Illuminates Solutions at February FAC Seminar

The Forge AHEAD Center’s (FAC) Scientific Seminar Series recently featured Sharon J. Herring, MD, MPH, an associate professor at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. In collaboration with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) and FAC, Dr. Herring’s visit marks a significant stride toward health equity.

The event kicked off with a lunch meeting where Dr. Herring shared her insights with FAC Pilot Award Scholars and Early-Stage Investigators at UAB, including Camille Worthington, Shena Gazaway, and Kaylee Crockett. This precursor set the stage for Dr. Herring’s compelling presentation, “Addressing Maternal Mortality: Advancing Community-Engaged Solutions,” highlighting the urgent need to tackle racial disparities in maternal health outcomes through community-driven solutions.

Our community, especially Black Americans and low-income populations in the Deep South, faces significant health disparities, notably in maternal health. Dr. Herring’s presentation shone a light on hope, featuring initiatives like Project HEAR and Change of HEART, focused on addressing trauma, building trust, and enhancing community engagement in maternal healthcare.

The Forge AHEAD Center is committed to diminishing health disparities through impactful research, education, and direct community engagement. Dr. Herring’s work underscores the significant impact of our collective efforts, pushing us closer to a future where health equity is not just an ideal but a reality.

Dr. Herring’s insights emphasize the urgency of the Forge AHEAD mission beyond maternal health, calling for systemic changes and community-driven solutions across all aspects of health equity. This collaborative endeavor is crucial in addressing the health disparities that plague our communities, highlighting the importance of informed action and advocacy for a healthier future for everyone.

View the recording of the presentation below.

Join Us for the Next Seminar: Your participation is crucial in driving our mission forward. Learn how you can be part of the change at our upcoming March seminar event. For details and registration, please visit this page.

NIH Director visits UAB; connects with Forge AHEAD Center leadership

NIH Director visits UAB; connects with Forge AHEAD Center leadership

Monica Bertagnolli, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, joined UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine UAB Department of Surgery Grand Rounds as the keynote speaker for the Kirby I. Bland Endowed Lectureship Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Bertagnolli’s presentation discussed concerning trend of declining health in the U.S. population, emphasizing the NIH’s commitment to seeking and applying knowledge to enhance and lengthen life for all Americans.

She highlighted that rising mortality rates among working-age adults are driven in part by cardiometabolic diseases, underscoring the urgent need for initiatives like Forge AHEAD Center to address these pressing health disparities.

In her keynote address, Bertagnolli emphasized the importance of community engagement and patient-centered research in advancing health outcomes. She said that “patients are partners in discovery,” and highlighted the significance of involving communities in every stage of the research process.

During the NIH Director’s visit, she met with various leaders across UAB throughout the day. Andrea Cherrington, M.D., MPH, MPI of Forge AHEAD Center, and Michael Mugavero, M.D., lead of the Investigator Development Core, had the opportunity to connect with Bertagnolli during her time on campus.

Cherrington presented on cardiometabolic risk and outcomes in Alabama and beyond. Mugavero shared insights into Alabama’s high burden of chronic diseases and how Forge AHEAD Center is addressing health disparities in the Deep South. He emphasized the importance of expanding funding for existing centers like Forge to leverage current resources and make a greater impact in the health equity space.

Check out our photo gallery below.

Our scholars’ stories: Myers explores a weight loss intervention at the intersection of food insecurity and excess body weight in women

Our scholars’ stories: Myers explores a weight loss intervention at the intersection of food insecurity and excess body weight in women

Candice A. Myers, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor of Population and Public Health Sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU and director of the Social Determinants and Health Disparities Laboratory, is pioneering a project aimed to help women who experience both food insecurity and excess body weight.

Her project, TARGETing Health Weight Loss in the Context of Food Insecurity Pilot and Feasibility Trial II, will test a weight loss intervention for women with excess body weight who are experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity, or the lack of sufficient food in both quality and quantity for an active and healthy life, is a pressing health issue in the United States, with over 18% of adults being food insecure.

“Food insecurity is a risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including obesity,” says Myers.

“Importantly, both food insecurity and excess body weight are significantly linked in women. Research efforts are needed to address and mitigate this health disparity.”

Myers’ “Why”

Myers says that as a sociologist, she has actively pursued an academic health researcher career by seeking a deeper understanding of the “concomitant influence” of sociological and biological mechanisms that shape disparate health outcomes.

“A key theme that underlies my entire research career to date is an explicit focus on disparities, socioeconomic disparities during my graduate training, and health disparities during my postdoctoral training.”

For Myers, postdoctoral training provided an opportunity to research obesity, where she discovered food insecurity as a pressing health issue, particularly about obesity.

“Calling upon my graduate work in both food stamp program participation and poverty, I focus on food insecurity as a risk factor for poor health and source of health disparities.”

A better future for women experiencing food insecurity

Myers’ project will provide novel data on a weight loss intervention tailored for women who face the dual burden of food insecurity and body weight, which impacts their overall health and quality of life.

The TARGET intervention is being developed using data from a sample of key stakeholders from the local Baton Rouge community: women who experience both food insecurity and obesity. In focus groups, they will offer information on their wants and needs for weight loss.

The goal of the current pilot study is to test the TARGET intervention. This study will enroll 15 food-insecure women (ages 18-65) with obesity, where all participants receive the tailored weight loss intervention. The 12-week intervention includes weekly individual intervention sessions. The primary outcome will be a change in body weight across 12 weeks.

Participants will receive scales in-home to obtain weekly body weight in tandem with weekly intervention sessions. Secondary outcomes will be assessed using validated questionnaires.

Researchers, public health officials, and local community members will also benefit from this preliminary work by laying the groundwork for future studies.

This study has significant public health implications by addressing psychological mechanisms that can be targeted to mitigate the adverse relationship between food insecurity and obesity and reduce health disparities in vulnerable populations.

Get to know our new communications specialist

Get to know our new communications specialist

Forge AHEAD Center is proud to announce Chris Campos has joined the Forge AHEAD Center team as communications specialist.

Campos role is based on UAB’s campus. Prior to his new role, Campos worked at Legacy Prep Charter School in Birmingham where he managed district technology and communications, focusing on student recruitment and data management. Prior to that, he worked for Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

“My roles at Legacy Prep Charter School and Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School were pivotal in developing my expertise in brand promotion, strategic planning, and community outreach, enriched further by my skills in graphic design and data analysis to support marketing campaigns and organizational growth,” Campos says.

Campos says he enjoys the many complexities of communications work. From disseminating a groundbreaking initiative, explaining a complex solution, or making information accessible, “the success of these endeavors hinges on effective communication.”

“What I love most about working in communications is the fundamental role it plays in bridging connections between people and the resources or information they need.”

In the realm of health equity, Campos believes effective communication is essential. “It’s about ensuring that vital health information and services reach those who need them most, without barriers,” he says.

“To me, communications is not just about transmitting messages; it’s about fostering understanding, facilitating access, and ultimately, knitting together the fabric of a community by ensuring everyone is informed, involved, and empowered.”

When asked why working in health equity is meaningful to him personally, Campos replies: “Working in health equity is profoundly important and meaningful to me because it aligns with my lifelong commitment to serving the public and engaging in work that makes a tangible impact on communities. My background in non-profit settings, the public utility industry, and public education has instilled a deep appreciation for initiatives that strive for equity and access for all, particularly among underserved populations.”

Campos says the industry transition from public education to the health equity and research represents a natural extension of his desire to advocate for fairness, leveraging his experiences and growing knowledge in public health to contribute to the critical task of addressing and reducing health disparities.

“This role not only resonates with my values, Campos says, “but also offers a compelling opportunity to apply my skills in new ways, supporting efforts that ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has equal access to healthcare services and the opportunity to lead healthy lives.”

Campos, who’s native to Texas but lived in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, says his roots run deep in the South. “I love to spend time with my wife and two-year-old son. Being a father is one of the most life-giving things I’ve ever experienced. Also, I am a distance runner and involved locally with the Birmingham Track Club. I ran my first marathon last Fall and already planning for the next. I love coffee (I’m one of those that does a pour over every morning) and spending time outside.”

We are glad to have Chris on board and welcome him whole-heartedly to the team.

Community Advisory Board member spotlight: Brooke Floyd

Community Advisory Board member spotlight: Brooke Floyd

Since January 2022, Brooke Floyd has served as a Forge AHEAD Center Community Advisory Board member, representing Jackson, Mississippi. For over 20 years, Brooke has worked in the Jackson community ensuring children are able to receive a quality education and the support they need to be successful.

Brooke is director of the JXN People’s Assembly, a program in the People’s Advocacy Institute, where she engages the community through education on issues, providing access to information and resources, facilitating People’s Assemblies, and helping the community bring proposed solutions to elected officials.

“Through People’s Assemblies true change is possible, for our communities, giving our children a fighting chance,” Brooke says.

The Forge AHEAD Center communications team sat down with Brooke to get to know her and better understand her role as a Community Advisory Board member.

Q: Tell us about your background and current work.

I worked in children’s education for over 20 years. I taught elementary school, HeadStart, and directed a children’s program at a local non-profit in Jackson called Stewpot Community Services. The program provided a free after school and summer camp for children in Jackson.

Currently, I am the Director of JXN People’s Assembly Initiatives which is a part of People’s Advocacy Institute. JXN People’s Assembly aims to increase community access to information, to government, and to increase community engagement and voice in government decisions. We hold People’s Assemblies with community to provide residents a space to receive information, discuss the issues relevant to them, and to develop solutions to solve the issues. The solutions can then be made into programs (almost all of People’s Advocacy Institute’s programs were developed through People’s Assemblies) or if needed taken to the appropriate government level to try and be made into policy.

Q: How does your work with the People’s Advocacy Institute and Stewpot align with the work of Forge AHEAD Center?

I think all three are working to help alleviate the gap between those that have and those that don’t. People’s Advocacy Institute aims to create a more just society by building community capacity and governing power through helping those who are often most harmed by an unjust system. Stewpot cares for people by providing their most basic needs, food, clothing, housing, and most importantly love.

The Forge AHEAD Center focuses on the health disparities all the groups of people PAI and Stewpot work with and provide services for. We may be in different subsets, but we are part of a much larger purpose, to help people in our area that are constantly left out of the equation. We all want to ensure that everyone is able to not only live but thrive.

Q: What excites you most about working with Forge AHEAD Center?

I love learning about the research and the potential outcomes. I am excited to see what can happen, when the right people, minds, and resources work together for the greater good.

Q: What are some of your goals within the Jackson, MS community for 2024?

There are several issues I am working on, but one main goal is to have a public water system that includes community input and supplies Jackson residents with clean drinking water.

I am also looking forward to our Youth Action Initiative which will help to train young people around the issues that are important to them and get them involved in the electoral process. Of course, I always have the goal of engaging more Jackson residents, keeping them informed and helping them to become part of the electoral process.

2024 Methods Symposium Recap

2024 Methods Symposium Recap

The 2024 Methods Symposium, “Scientific Methods to Support Implementation Science” was a hybrid event held at the Edge of Chaos in the UAB Lister Hill Center on January 18th. COERE Director, Dr. Michael Mugavero shared that “the 2024 Methods Symposium exceeded our lofty expectations and provided overwhelming evidence of the substantial interest in learning more about Dissemination and Implementation Science research. We engaged over 150 participants (60+ in person and 98 via Zoom), heard four fantastic presentations, and had substantive interactions among those in attendance throughout the half day event.” The 2024 Methods Symposium was sponsored by UAB COERE, CFAR, CCTS, UAB School of Public Health, Heersink School of Medicine, and Forge AHEAD Center.

The 2024 Methods Symposium featured dynamic talks from Drs. Eva Woodward from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Jereme Wilroy from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Alicia Bunger from The Ohio State University. The highlight of the event was with the Meredith Kilgore Endowed Lectureship delivered by Dr. Maria Fernandez from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, that focused on implementation mapping. Attendees interacted with speakers to discuss facilitators and challenges to implementation science, novel methods, and ways to leverage social networks. The Symposium concluded with an interactive luncheon with speakers and in-person attendees. “The COERE team looks forward to seizing the momentum of the Methods Symposium in working with co-sponsors and other partners to further build the Implementation Science training and research portfolio at UAB and across the Deep South region. Our concerted, collaborative efforts to enhance Implementation Science research capacity are essential to ensure that effective scientific innovations are systematically and equitably delivered to individuals, communities, and populations in greatest need with maximal reach, rigor, and expediency to advance health and wellness” said Mugavero. With its diverse range of perspectives, the Symposium helped reaffirm a collective commitment to support and build the field of research in implementation science.

Explore the complete event photo album.

 

Community Coalition spotlight: Seven Star Academy

Community Coalition spotlight: Seven Star Academy

Seven Star Academy, Inc. a non-profit organization located in New Orleans, Louisana, is a Forge AHEAD Center Community Coalition partner.

Founded in 2018, Seven Star Academy, Inc. aims to increase the health and wellness of local communities through health literacy and education, participation in research, and healthy program enrollment.

Nelson Lemieux is the executive director of Seven Star Academy, Inc. and says that the partnership between Forge AHEAD Center and Seven Star Academy will ultimately increase the impact of their efforts. He and Dr. KiTani Lemieux, who is also a Forge AHEAD Center Community Advisory Board member, direct and manage Seven Star Academy, Inc.

Health literacy as an avenue for justice

“Seven Star Academy, Inc. works with partners that are like-minded in their missions,” says Nelson Lemieux. “Forge AHEAD is committed to improving health equity in the Deep South. Seven Star Academy is committed to addressing health disparities with a social justice lens.”

Lemieux explains that Seven Star Academy, Inc. diligently seeks like-minded organizations to partner with, and they seek social justice through health equity for those who are underrepresented in the biomedical community.

They engage underrepresented communities in science and research by enrolling participants in the All of Us Research Program, offering educational events on research participation, hosting vaccine awareness events, and more.

“Our grassroots approach in providing health literacy information and education has heightened awareness for wellness in the communities that we serve,” says Lemieux.

Looking towards the future

Increasing Seven Star Academy’s visibility and expanding reach with additional resources for community education efforts is essential to the organization.

Both Seven Star Academy, Inc. and Forge AHEAD Center are excited about the shared community partnerships. “We want to be a part of a community-driven solution that is sustainable,” Lemieux says.

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Mugavero named lead of Forge AHEAD Center Investigator Development Core

Mugavero named lead of Forge AHEAD Center Investigator Development Core

Michael Mugavero, M.D., MHSc, professor in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases, has been named lead of the Forge AHEAD Center (FAC) Investigator Development Core, which became effective Dec. 1, 2023.

The FAC Investigator Development Core is dedicated to preparing and mentoring investigators as they develop innovative health equity research with a precision public health approach, such as translational community and clinical programs.

Mugavero brings a wide range of research-related leadership experiences to the role, such as currently serving as director for the Center for Outcomes Effectiveness Research and Education (COERE) at UAB Heersink School of Medicine, co-director of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine Center for AIDS Research, associate director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, and PI of an AHRQ T32 training grant in health services and outcomes research.

“I am excited to join a dynamic team of deeply committed faculty and staff from across our partner institutions in the Investigator Development Core, and to engage with current and future Forge AHEAD Scholars to support their pilot projects, professional development, and successful advancement on the next steps of their career journeys,” Mugavero says.

“Our first cohort of Scholars will wrap up their pilot projects in Summer 2024 – an early priority for me will be to learn more about them and their projects and how we can continue to support them after their pilot grant funding ends,” Mugavero says. He explains that FAC is committed to and invested in Scholars for the long-term, not just while they are funded.

Early this year, the Investigator Development Core will gear up to onboard the next cohort of FAC Scholars.

“Simultaneously, we’ll be onboarding the next cohort of Scholars in January 2024 as they begin their pilot projects, while contemporaneously completing our review of applications for an HIV-focused supplement. So, my initial focus will be navigating transitions of Scholars in and out of the program, leaning heavily on the IDC team and their many successes and lessons learned over the years.”

When asked what it means for him personally to be part of Forge AHEAD Center’s work, he says, “The opportunity to join the Forge AHEAD Center Investigator Development Core aligns with my core values and priorities professionally. To be able to engage with early career scholars who are deeply committed to addressing intersectional health inequities in our region and play a small role in supporting their professional development and advancement, is deeply humbling, inspiring, and rewarding. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with such an incredible team.”

Our Scholars’ stories: Worthington revolutionizes maternal health through innovative nutrition programs

Our Scholars’ stories: Worthington revolutionizes maternal health through innovative nutrition programs

 

Camille Worthington, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is spearheading a groundbreaking initiative to transform maternal health through innovative nutritional interventions.

Her project, “Use of Home-Delivered Meals to Manage Cardiometabolic Health during Pregnancy among Predominantly Black, Low-Income Women in Alabama,” focuses on the critical juncture of pregnancy, diet, maternal well-being, and birth outcomes among Medicaid-eligible pregnant individuals.

Worthington’s “Why”

At the heart of Worthington’s initiative lies a profound purpose—to resolve the disparities prevalent in healthy eating and appropriate pregnancy weight gain that contribute to unequal risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, such as high blood pressure, particularly among marginalized communities.

“The U.S. and Alabama have some of the highest rates of pregnancy complications, poor pregnancy outcomes, and mom and baby death related to pregnancy,” Worthington explains. “Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy pregnancy, but not everyone has the ability to afford or access a healthy diet.”

Worthington explains that neighborhoods with more Black/African American residents and more low-income households have more fast-food restaurants, less grocery stores, and fewer healthy food options. These circumstances contribute to poor outcomes during pregnancy.

A staggering 70% of pregnant women exceed recommended intakes of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. Additionally, more than half gain excess weight during pregnancy, risking their and their babies’ health.

Transforming outcomes through food delivery

“The purpose of my project is to see if providing pregnant moms who are Medicaid-eligible with ten free healthy meals delivered right to their homes each week during their pregnancy helps them eat healthier, gain the right amount of pregnancy weight, have less stress, and if it is a service that they like,” says Worthington.

She envisions a transformative impact on the community by providing access to healthy meals.

“Healthy meal delivery can support healthier pregnancies, which supports healthier babies, and ultimately healthier communities,” she says.

“Long-term, we hope to show that providing pregnant people with healthy meals improves pregnancy outcomes and saves insurance companies money by preventing moms and babies from having pregnancy complications and having to stay in the hospital.”

Worthington explains that pregnant individuals eligible for Medicaid are participants in the program. Health care providers, community organizations supporting expectant mothers, and insurance providers are stakeholders in broader implementation.

Moving towards change

“We want healthy meal delivery to become a covered health care service to support all moms’ ability to eat healthy and have a healthy pregnancy.”

Worthington passionately emphasizes the intrinsic link between a balanced diet, stress reduction, and improved health outcomes for both mother and baby, paving the way to address the prevailing disparities in maternal healthcare across the U.S.

“Overall, a better diet, healthier pregnancy weight gain, and lower stress can improve health outcomes for mom and baby and could help to overcome the unequal rates of pregnancy complications that we see in the U.S.,” she says.

Worthington’s visionary initiative serves as a beacon of hope, steering academia, health care providers, and policymakers toward a paradigm shift in maternal health, advocating for a future where access to nutritious meals becomes an inalienable right for every expectant mother.

LEAD Early Program hosts successful meeting with Birmingham partners

LEAD Early Program hosts successful meeting with Birmingham partners

 

Forge AHEAD Center recently partnered with the City of Birmingham Dept. of Youth Services LEAD Early Program to support community leaders as they discussed national and local solutions to close disparity gaps in maternal and child health.

The cohort of community leaders, educators and health equity champions were energized and inspiring, sharing personal stories, triumphs, and opportunities in pursuit of equitable, healthy and thriving communities for all.

Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) Director, Cynthia Jones, delivered the keynote address highlighting social determinants of health and the mental health implications for children and teens.

Forge AHEAD Center scholar, Dr. Camille Schneider Worthington, discussed her pilot project: utilizing meal delivery services for expectant mothers to reduce cardio metabolic disease.

Community Advisory Board member and JXN People’s Assembly Director, Brooke Floyd, shared her passion for providing equitable resources and advocating for families in Jackson, MS.

And, Dr. Felicia Fortune, CEO of KidsXpress Urgent Care, discussed the importance and access to routine care for children.

Rauslyn Adams, MSW, and Lorren, from Chocolate Milk Mommies, and Dalia Abrams, with Birthwell Partners discussed their work supporting expectant and breastfeeding mothers.