(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — A $6.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow researchers at Texas A&M University and The Texas A&M University System to study rural and minority health issues such as diabetes and obesity.

The Center for the Study of Health Disparities at the Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development and the Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health have been awarded the grant over a five-year period from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The program supported by the funding will address rural and minority health issues by providing critical information on how population and contextual factors impact food choice, dietary patterns, and the risk of obesity in minority and rural populations, including children.

The researchers also plan to develop interventions to reduce the risk of obesity, particularly among rural, minority and underserved individuals while at the same time testing the different effects of diabetes self-management models in rural, urban and minority populations

Key faculty involved in the grant include Kenneth McLeroy, professor of social and behavioral health at HSC-SRPH, who will serve as principal investigator; and Mary Shaw-Ridley, associate professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology and director of the Center for the Study of Health Disparities at Texas A&M, who will serve as program director.

“This substantial grant from the National Institutes of Health provides the opportunity for Texas A&M University and the Health Science Center to focus our efforts on addressing the significant disparities in health that exist between and within minority and majority populations, particularly in rural areas,” McLeroy said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with our community partners in better understanding and addressing the causes, consequences, and appropriate interventions for reducing and eliminating health disparities.”

Because the grant will be administered by researchers from different parts of TAMUS, researchers believe it also will strengthen the ability of Texas A&M, the HSC, Prairie View A&M University and the TAMUS overall to support disparities research and the recruitment and training of faculty committed to disparities research. It is also expected to strengthen the focus on health disparities at the system level, thus including its nine universities and seven state agencies.

“This grant award provides a unique opportunity to foster collaboration, coordination and promote linkages across a diverse array of stakeholders who are committed to eliminating health disparities,” Shaw said. “The possibilities for challenging the traditional research paradigm to become more inclusive of diverse ways of knowing and thinking about the complex factors that have contributed to education and health disparities is personally exciting.”

This collaboration is designed to increase the focus on health disparities within the TAMUS and support three collaborative research projects: “Employing Diabetes Self-Management Models to Reduce Health Disparities in Texas,” directed by Sam Forjuoh, Jane Bolin and Ranjita Misra; “Behavioral and Environmental Influence on Obesity: Rural Context and Race/Ethnicity,” directed by Joe Sharkey, Barbara Sharf and Soujin Wang; and “Student Wellness Assessment and Advocacy Project,” directed by Sharon McWhinney, Jay Arekere and Lisako McKyer.

Directors of core research, education and training activities include Tony Rene of HSC-SRPH and Jeff Guidry of Texas A&M. Marcia Ory of the HSC-SRPH will be working with Rene, Guidry and Shaw on strengthening the translation and dissemination of project findings.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell