Science + Technology

Getting to the heart of cardiovascular disease among Latinos in East Los Angeles

$10 million NIH grant will create unique partnership between UCLA, USC

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The UCLA School of Public Health today announced a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund a Center for Population Health and Health Disparities in partnership with the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and several community collaborators. 
 
The goal of the center is to reduce cardiovascular disease risk among Latinos in East Los Angeles, where 96 percent of the population is of Mexican or Central American ancestry. This community experiences higher rates of obesity-related chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke, especially in comparison to residents in other areas of Los Angeles.
 
The announcement was made at the Los Angeles County Roybal Comprehensive Health Center in East Los Angeles, where participants will be recruited for the new center's study, which will use a community-based participatory approach to implement family and neighborhood environment interventions. 
 
Researchers will also collect data from other community participants to examine the risk of individuals across generations; these data will help them determine the role that acculturation and the food environment play in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease.
 
"Given the high rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and the low rates of physical activity and poor eating practices, we believe that East L.A. is ready for a community-centered intervention and research program to reduce the risks associated with cardiovascular disease," said Alex Ortega, a professor of health services at the UCLA School of Public Health and principal investigator for the new center.
 
The study will carry out two behavioral and environment-intervention projects and one interdisciplinary social and basic science project, all designed to bring positive changes to the community by focusing on key factors that affect health outcomes: personal and family factors, systems factors and environmental factors. 
 
Project 1
This project is an intensive home-environment intervention involving families in which one member is at a high risk for cardiovascular disease and is enrolled in a local diabetes-care clinic serving low-income patients. The intervention will include re-engineering the home to encourage consumption of more fruits and vegetables, to root out high-sodium and processed foods, and to reduce television watching. Participants will also be encouraged to frequent the East Los Angeles Farmers Market and select corner stores featuring fruits and vegetables.
 
Project 2
This project will examine the role of acculturation on vascular function and cardiovascular disease among Latinos of different generations within the same families, who are also likely to vary in immigrant status.
 
Project 3
This project will make over four corner market stores in East Los Angeles to enable them to market and provide healthier food options and to serve as venues for training community members in how to create healthier food options and prepare healthier meals.
 
"As researchers and community partners, we are committed to improving the health status of the East L.A. community and to being part of the process that encourages healthy changes for the community and its residents," said collaborator Dr. Anne Peters, a professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and director of the Comprehensive Diabetes Center at the Roybal Community Medical Center. "We hope this grant will help to instill healthy nutrition and physical activity habits that will last a lifetime."
 
Through a training and career development program established as part of the grant, the center will work with community health workers called promotoras and will recruit students from public high schools in the community to act as "public health rookies" in the different interventions. The rookies are expected to develop leadership at the local level and develop a better understanding of the impact of the food environment on healthy eating. This grant will provide resources and create a pipeline to health careers for youth in the community.
 
The center will also fund a research methods core program that will provide methodological and statistical support across the projects.
 
"Latinos are now the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. Therefore, the knowledge gained from these projects will not only add to our understanding of cardiovascular disease in Latinos locally but will also contribute to national efforts to reduce and eliminate cardiovascular disease disparities in Latinos at the individual, micro, family and community levels," said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the UCLA School of Public Health.
 
The UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities team includes principal investigator Alex Ortega and UCLA School of Public Health faculty members William McCarthy, Thomas Belin, Ronald Brookmeyer, Deborah Glik, Robert Kaplan, Michael Prelip, Christian Roberts, May Wang and Dr. Antronette Yancey.
 
Other collaborators include Dr. Anne Peters and Valerie Ruelas, M.S.W., from USC, Michael Blockstein and Reanne Estrada from the community advocacy group Public Matters, Robert Santos from the Urban Institute, Dr. Tony Kuo from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, and Nathan Cheng from Nathan Cheng and Associates.
 
The National Institutes of Health will fund 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities to support transdisciplinary collaborations among biological, medical, behavioral, social and public health scientists. The NIH includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov  
 
The UCLA School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research; training future leaders and health professionals; translating research into policy and practice; and serving local, national and international communities. For more information, visit www.ph.ucla.edu.
 
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