Mayo study: mobile app to improve black heart health shows promise

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Mobile apps are popular tools for people looking to improve their health, but are they effective? They can be if the application is culturally adapted to the needs of its users.

In a

study

Published Monday, July 18 in Circulation, Mayo Clinic researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a culturally relevant mobile app designed to improve the heart health of African Americans in faith-based communities. Researchers found that people who participated in a 10-week clinical trial using the app experienced significant improvements in overall heart health scores and improvements in key diet-related heart health behaviors and physical activity.

LaPrincess Brewer, MDleft, a Mayo Clinic preventive cardiologist and the study’s principal investigator, discusses heart health.

African Americans are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease, compared to the general population. These differences are driven by underlying cardiovascular risk factors, as well as social and economic inequalities, according to a report from the

American Heart Association

.

“Our study is the first of its kind to integrate an innovative, community-approved, smartphone-based app into a randomized clinical trial to improve the overall heart health of African Americans,” says

LaPrincess Brewer, MD

, a Mayo Clinic preventive cardiologist and the study’s principal investigator. “Our results are promising in that they demonstrate the potential of mobile technologies to positively influence hard-to-change health behaviors: diet and physical activity.”

This study was part of a community-based research program called Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health, or FAITH! The faith! The program is an academic-community partnership focused on addressing health disparities, particularly related to heart health in African American communities. Over 100 African American churches in Rochester and the Twin Cities are active in FAITH! Program, which Dr. Brewer has led at Mayo Clinic since 2013. The FAITH! app is a community project, co-designed with the help of FAITH! community partners. The app is currently not available to the public as research continues.

African American churches were recruited to participate through FAITH! Schedule contacts and use citywide advertisements. Participants were recruited through in-person and virtual events hosted by churches, direct referrals from church staff, and through self-referral. When assigning participants to the intervention or control group, randomization was done at the church level rather than at the individual level to hold communities together.

The app-based intervention included:

  • Culturally appropriate educational modules addressing stressors and health disparities affecting African Americans; the importance of health equity and self-advocacy in clinical settings; and practical strategies for overcoming barriers to better health, such as heart-healthy recipes based on traditional African-American cuisine.
  • Modules focusing on diet, physical activity, smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose from the American Heart Association Life’s Simple Seven.
  • Self-monitoring of diet and physical activity.
  • A group sharing board.

In addition, churches have used thermometer goal charts to track church-level progress on diet and physical activity goals, encouraging social support for participants and friendly competition with other churches. participants.

Researchers assessed each participant’s average change in mean heart health score on a scale of 0 (poor) to 14 (ideal) from baseline to six months after the intervention. Among participants in the intervention group, average heart health scores increased by nearly two points, compared with less than one point in the control group. Participants in the intervention group also significantly improved key heart health behaviors related to diet and physical activity.

This study builds on previous research that assessed the

feasibility

of the intervention of the mobile application, supported the

potential benefits

of the app and evaluated the design and content of the app with the help of community focus groups.

Importance of collaborating with religious communities

According

Christi Patten, Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic psychologist and lead author, this study not only demonstrates the effectiveness of the app, but also underscores the value of relationships and collaborations between researchers and communities to collectively create effective and culturally relevant digital interventions for improve heart health.

Rev. Daniel McKizzie, pastor of New Creation Baptist Church in Minneapolis, agrees, expressing his appreciation for the opportunity for his church to participate in FAITH! clinical trial of the app.

“As a leader in the faith community, I have found it important to me not only to communicate the benefits of a culturally relevant app, but also to lead by example and experience it for myself” , says McKizzie. “The result was many attendees from our church.”

About Stuart M. McFarland

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