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 Medicine 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.

Community Coalition spotlight: Community Care Development Network

Community Coalition spotlight: Community Care Development Network


Forge AHEAD Center (FAC) and Community Care Development Network (CCDN) in Alabama have embarked on a collaborative partnership aimed at reshaping the landscape of food security and fostering equitable change.

CCDN is a network dedicated to helping solve community challenges such as youth peer pressure, adult conflict, communication and financial barriers, and life skills—among others—by offering support services in the areas of education, family, and community outreach.

A partnership focus on long-term change

The partnership between FAC and CCDN brings together the expertise, resources, and shared vision of two entities dedicated to uplifting communities and enhancing livelihoods.

Forge AHEAD Center’s focus on health equity research and community health aligns seamlessly with CCDN’s commitment to providing comprehensive support networks for underserved populations.

“FAC benefits and adds value to CCDN as we enter a research space for food insecurity and health disparities,” says Tamika D. Holmes, MBA, MHRM, founder and director of Community Care Development Network.

CCDN’s mission is to develop, transform, and restore life to families, adults, teens, and the community to be committed, unified, and mature. Their vision is empowering and influencing people to own their potential and create an opportunity for themselves.

When working with external partners, Holmes says one of the most important goals is to ensure external partners fit this mission and vision.

“This also helps us to determine the strength of the partnership and the output of the work both CCDN and partners have the capability to perform. Another important goal is that external partners should focus on the community’s best interests. This comes by interacting with the community to learn the best ways to serve the community.”

Working together

At the heart of the partnership lies a mutual understanding of the multifaceted challenges faced by communities—ranging from economic disparities to limited access to education and health care.

By combining strengths, Forge AHEAD Center and CCDN aim to address these challenges comprehensively, employing a holistic approach that considers the diverse needs of individuals and communities.

“We are currently operating several community food hubs in various locations of Jefferson County and one in Blount County,” says Holmes. “The growth towards research will help us provide better quality of food in the locations that are food insecure. In addition, the community engagement component helps voices to be heard clearly.”

Moreover, the collaboration extends beyond education, encompassing health care initiatives and social support systems. CCDN’s experience in providing services dovetails with Forge AHEAD Center’s mission to ensure access to quality health care for all. Together, they will strive to bridge gaps in healthcare access.

Shared commitment for the future

The synergy between Forge AHEAD Center and CCDN signifies a shared commitment healthy futures for all communities.

“CCDN is in the process of introducing our food insecurity project to various partners, including FAC,” says Holmes. “We are excited about the continued progress of meeting the community’s needs in this capacity, as we know that food is a primary need. We look forward to many robust conversations on how to make an impact in the food insecurity arena.”

As this partnership continues to evolve, its impact reverberates through communities, creating a brighter, more inclusive future. By working hand in hand, Forge AHEAD Center and CCDN exemplify the profound impact that collaboration and shared vision can have in building stronger, more resilient communities for generations to come.

Four new research projects to expand reach of Forge AHEAD Center

Four new research projects to expand reach of Forge AHEAD Center


The Forge AHEAD (Advancing Health Equity Across the Deep South) Center has received a new award, totaling over $4.5million, to fund four new research projects aimed to expand the reach of the center’s mission.

Forge AHEAD Center, a regional comprehensive research center, is making significant strides in the battle against cardiometabolic diseases in the Deep South. Focused on the prevention and management of health disparities associated with obesity, diabetes, and hypertension (HTN), Forge AHEAD Center spans the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and a key player in the Health Equity Action Network, the center’s vision is clear: achieve health equity by eliminating disparities and improving health outcomes.

In the Deep South, where rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are the highest in the nation, Forge AHEAD Center is addressing a critical need. Life expectancy in the region, particularly for Black Americans, lags significantly behind other areas. Forge AHEAD Center recognizes the urgent need for intervention on multiple levels, encompassing research, training, outreach, and education. The goal is the elimination of health disparities and the realization of health equity for all.

“This new funding supports an exciting advancement of the mission of Forge AHEAD Center to address health equity in cardiometabolic disease across the South,” says Andrea Cherrington, M.D., professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Medicine, and the contact primary investigator for Forge AHEAD Center.

“These additional Forge AHEAD Center projects invest in four new investigators conducting interventions focused on cardiometabolic disease prevention and management that apply novel intervention approaches not addressed by the Center’s current projects.”

The following research projects aim to support the center through this new grant:

Project 1
Title: Teen Mom Study: A Hybrid Cluster Randomized Trial
Abigail Gamble, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
University of Mississippi Medical Center

Project 2
Title: Remotely Delivered Resistance Training for Cardiometabolic Health among Black Women: A Pilot Trial
Amber W. Kinsey, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
UAB Heersink School of Medicine –Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive Medicine

Project 3
Title: Remotely-delivered Mindfulness-Based Diabetes Education for rural adults with uncontrolled diabetes and elevated distress
Caroline Presley, M.D.
Assistant Professor
UAB Heersink School of Medicine –Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive Medicine

Project 4
Title: Weight-focused vs. weight-neutral adaptive biobehavioral strategies for improving metabolic health in Black adults with Stage 1 Obesity: A pilot Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial
Drew Sayer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine

Forge AHEAD HIV-Focused Pilot RFA

Forge AHEAD HIV-Focused Pilot RFA

The Forge AHEAD (Advancing Health Equity Across the Deep South) Center is pleased to announce a new HIV-focused request for applications for its Pilot and Feasibility Scholars Program.  Funding for this special emphasis round is available for up to 3 pilot awards (up to $50,000 each for 1 year) focused specifically on health equity issues related to HIV and cardiometabolic disease, ranging from prevention efforts to projects involving people living with HIV.  This program will provide seed support for research projects focused on stakeholder-engaged intervention development, clinical outcomes, implementation and dissemination (T3) and outcomes and effectiveness in populations (T4).  Letters of intent are due October 25, 2023, and detailed instructions can be found in the RFA document.  Please reach out to Dr. Trudi Horton at trudihorton@uabmc.edu if you have questions or would like additional information.

LAUNCHED is Recruiting Underrepresented Minority Scientists

Now Recruiting Underrepresented Minority Scientists: LAUNCHED

(The Louisiana Center for Advancing Underrepresented Scientists Careers in Health, Nutrition, Obesity, and Disparities Research)

The Louisiana Center for Advancing Underrepresented Scientists Careers in Health, Nutrition, Obesity, and Disparities Research (LAUNCHED) is a comprehensive program designed to provide mentorship, training, and career development opportunities for underrepresented minority (URM) scientists in nutrition, obesity, diabetes, and related research. LAUNCHED is a highly innovative training program with the long-term goal of increasing the success rate of underrepresented ethnic minority scientists competing for federal research funding in the fields of nutrition, obesity, and diabetes. Located in the Deep South, LAUNCHED is focusing on providing training to scientists in Louisiana and neighboring states. A diverse workforce is important to academic productivity. However, there are several groups of scientists, including racial and ethnic minority groups, who are currently underrepresented in academia. This underrepresentation has a direct effect on scientific research in general, but especially within health disparities research, including studies related to nutrition, obesity, and/or diabetes. The goal of LAUNCHED is to increase the success rate of URM scientists being awarded federal research funding, particularly in areas relevant to the National Institute for Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).  The LAUNCHED program is funded by the NIDDK and is a collaboration among several institutions, including Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Southern University, Louisiana State University (LSU) A&M, Xavier University of Louisiana, Tulane University, and LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO).

We are looking for early career scientists (post-doctoral fellows and early career faculty) from institutions in Louisiana and neighboring states with an interest in diabetes, nutrition, and/or obesity research from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. Applicants must have a PhD or MD equivalent degree and there is no citizenship requirement. Additional information can also be found on our website at www.launchedprogram.org. Should you have any questions at this time, please feel free to contact us at launched@pbrc.edu. We are very excited to give deserving applicants the opportunities that LAUNCHED has to offer!

Apply here today.