Partnership in action to improve community health

From left to right: Dennis Styne, Tina Roberts, Linda Ziegahn and Derrell Roberts, CEO of the Roberts Family Development Center.

Posted April 11, 2012

The African American Leadership Coalition (AALC), which was formed in 2008 as a coalition of community organizations, leaders and agencies concerned with the plight of African Americans in the Sacramento area, is taking part in a new UC Davis community involvement initiative. Several members of AALC’s Health Committee — including Tina Roberts of the Roberts Family Development Center and Edward Lewis of the Sacramento chapters of Black Greek Letters organizations — participated in the June 2011 Community Engagement and Health Partnerships Workshop sponsored by the Clinical and Translational Science Center and the Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

The purpose of this workshop, facilitated by nationally known community-based participatory research expert Nina Wallerstein, was twofold: to discuss how community-academic research partnerships can bring together the interests and health practices of communities and cutting-edge research from academic medical centers; and to announce the availability of pilot funding for innovative partnerships between communities and UC Davis.

"In the future we would like to see better access to fresh fruit and vegetables, schools assigning more time to physical education and food banks revising the type of food provided for low-income families." 
— Linda Ziegahn

Roberts, Lewis and a third AALC member, Joyce Askia from Sacramento County’s Black Infant Health Program, were aware of UC Davis pediatrics professor Dennis Styne’s work to help thwart diabetes and obesity among Native-American populations. With the help of the CTSC Community Engagement program, they made contact with Styne, and together developed a proposal to work with African-American families in Sacramento. The new project will begin with a survey of participants to ascertain knowledge of diabetes and obesity in their families and the community. Using the study results, the project organizers will work with these same families on development of family action plans to change behaviors that lead to diabetes and obesity, and to maintain constructive behaviors that protect against these diseases.

Funding from the CTSC will enable key community members to assume pivotal roles in the design, data collection and analysis of a pilot study of 24 African-American families. Meetings with participating families are expected to start in March. Styne, who holds the Yocha Dehe Chair for Pediatric Endocrinology, said the study’s goal is to "empower the community to play an active role in identifying those factors that deter people from developing the healthy habits that reduce their likelihood of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. This approach differs from classic study models in which studies are directed toward a community in a unidirectional manner," he said.

"This grant is unique because it’s the first step in creating a process in which members of the community are more involved in research and are active partners in reducing health disparities," said Roberts, whose organization conducts education and recreation programs for children in North Sacramento.

A new UC Davis community involvement initiative is working to improve  health conditions for families and communities.

Linda Ziegahn, community engagement manager at the CTSC, helps identify the communities interested in partnering with UC Davis researchers and introduces them to the researchers who want to collaborate with those communities as equal partners focused on improving health. She hopes that the results of this pilot study will lead to larger studies and eventually to community interventions that will improve the overall health of African-American families.

"In the future we would like to see better access to fresh fruit and vegetables, schools assigning more time to physical education and food banks revising the type of food provided for low-income families," said Ziegahn. "By engaging those groups underserved by health services, we believe we are starting in the right place."

In addition to this project, CTSC-funded community-engaged research studies also will investigate premature births and low birth weights in African Americans, and physical- and mental-health conditions among Iraqi refugees.