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Faculty & Staff Honors

South Carolina Associate Professor Receives Nearly $3.3 Million NIH Grant to Reduce Heart Disease through Nutrition-based Approach

Dr. Brie Turner-McGrievy, associate professor of health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, has received a nearly $3.3 million grant to research nutrition-based approaches to reducing heart disease among overweight African Americans. Funded through the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the five-year, R01 grant will be used to examine the use of healthy soul food diets (plant-based vs omnivorous) to address cardiovascular disease in this population.

This study aims to examine cardiovascular disease prevention, specifically for African Americans living in the southeastern United States. The researchers, which include co-investigators Dr. Edward Frongillo (HPEB), Dr. Sara Wilcox (exercise science) and Dr. Angela Murphy (School of Medicine), will partner with two local, soul food restaurants that serve southern-style food to ensure the recipes used in the study are culturally appropriate.

[Photo: Dr. Bri Turner-McGrievy]

With one of the restaurants specializing in southern-style vegan food and the other featuring more traditional (i.e., omnivorous) southern fare, the team’s long-term goal is to understand which culturally-tailored dietary approach best targets both cardiovascular disease prevention and weight loss among overweight African Americans. In a pilot test, the researchers confirmed that the restaurants received equal satisfaction ratings from study participants—indicating that partnering with these restaurants will help ensure that the recipes used in the study are both appealing and appropriate.

Participants in the current study will be randomly assigned to either a vegan or an omnivorous diet, both of which emphasize healthy, southern food culture. Over a two-year period, the researchers will assess the participants’ risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight.

“This research is important because we are addressing health disparities in heart disease and obesity using a nutrition- and community-based approach,” says Dr. Turner-McGrievy. “We’re partnering with local community restaurants to help inform culinary aspects of the intervention to improve diet and reduce heart disease risk.”

More African Americans die from cardiovascular disease than any other chronic disease. This population is disproportionately affected by obesity and cardiovascular disease, and they experience the highest death rates from cardiovascular disease compared to other racial/ethnic groups.

Previous research, including studies conducted by Dr. Turner-McGrievy and her team, have shown that people who adhere to plant-based diets, particularly vegan or vegetarian, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and have more success in losing weight than those who follow omnivorous diets. Although research has shown a significant weight-loss and cholesterol-lowering effect as a result of adopting plant-based diets, most of these large randomized trials have had limited participation from African American participants.

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