Public Release:  Can weight loss help African-American breast cancer survivors?

University of Illinois at Chicago

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy have designed a novel community-based weight loss intervention designed for African American breast cancer survivors.

Under a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, researchers will determine if the program, called Moving Forward, is effective in decreasing body mass index and weight and improving diet and physical activity habits. They will also evaluate the effect of weight loss on blood pressure, cholesterol and quality of life.

African American women exhibit higher breast cancer mortality rates than white women; in Chicago the breast cancer mortality rate for black women is 116 percent higher than the rate for white women, says Melinda Stolley, principal investigator of the study and institute researcher.

Poor diet, lack of physical activity and obesity contribute to breast cancer progression and may intensify other conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, she said.

"One of the cruel things about being diagnosed with breast cancer is that most women gain weight post-treatment -- on average 5 to 7 pounds -- which is not fully understood. We want to target African American women because nearly 78 percent of African American women are overweight or obese."

Physical activity has been shown to improve survival in breast cancer patients, Stolley said, but there has been very little research on weight loss in African American breast cancer survivors.

UIC will partner with the Chicago Park District to implement the study in the Roseland/Pullman, Englewood, Austin, South Shore and Lawndale neighborhoods.

The randomized study will recruit 240 African American breast cancer survivors who have completed treatment at least six months prior; are overweight; are physically able to participate in moderate physical activity; and are not currently in a structured weight loss program.

The goal of the weight loss intervention is to address health behavior change at an individual level while acknowledging the importance of culture, family lifestyles, community traditions and social support, said Stolley. A pilot study "was effective in significantly reducing dietary fat and significantly increasing vegetable intake, vigorous activity, and social support." Women in the pilot study lost five and a half pounds during the six-month intervention.

Women in the program will receive a free 12-month membership to a participating park district location where they will attend twice weekly exercise and educational sessions. Participants in the control group will meet weekly to learn about general health topics. At the end of the program all participants will receive a 12-month free membership to the Chicago Park District.

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Co-investigators are Drs. Richard Campbell, Giamila Fantuzzi, Ben Gerber, Angela Odoms-Young, and Lisa Sharp.

UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 27,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

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