Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been awarded a five-year, $2.3 million federal grant to study and build upon the success of an innovative program in Springfield, MA to improve the health of low-income African-American men.
The UMass team, partnering with Springfield's Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) program, will use the grant from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to test and improve the effectiveness of MOCHA's efforts to address eating habits, exercise, and stress stemming from impoverished economic conditions, racial and class discrimination, and gender role strain.
This research will include questionnaires about life stresses, and will take the innovative approach of measuring levels of the hormone cortisol in hair samples from participating men to objectively measure stress.
"Low-income, African-American men experience significant health disparities compared to men of other racial identities," said Louis Graham, Dr.P.H., assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst. "Our team is looking forward to our partnership with MOCHA because it's important that we address these disparities and support men of color in improving their health."
Since 2010, MOCHA has served more than 350 men, ages 40 to 60, in small, 12-week social networking groups exploring various aspects of black male identity. Started as a partnership of the YMCA and the Massachusetts Department of Health, the program has aimed to reduce barriers to healthcare for men of color, engage them in chronic disease self-management, and reduce poor health outcomes. Preliminary data indicate MOCHA has succeeded in reducing weight, body fat, systolic blood pressure, and self-reported levels of stress.
"In the face of growing health disparities in the Springfield area, community leaders saw an urgent need to come together and improve the health of our residents and created MOCHA," said Antonio Delesline, the program's coordinator. "This initiative utilizes the strength intrinsic to social and cultural beliefs regarding the role of men in the health of their families, and enhances leadership among men of color to motivate changes in behavior among their social networks that contribute to chronic diseases."
After evaluating the effectiveness of the current MOCHA program, the UMass team will use the NIMHD funding to:
- Implement "digital storytelling" in which MOCHA participants will create and share personal narratives as part of an enhanced program called MOCHA+
- Determine which individual, interpersonal, and social factors have an impact on stress and the health of low-income, African-American men
- Explain chronic diseases in African-American men, specifically examining the interactions of race and gender identities in the context of discrimination, micro-aggressions, and social isolation
Graham noted participants in the original MOCHA program take part in storytelling and share how they cope with life stresses such as housing, employment and relationships - a program aspect that developed organically. Over the next few years, his team's research will explore specifically why and how well storytelling works, and then they'll add digital and other storytelling components as a core part of a new approach to see if MOCHA+ can increase positive outcomes.
The digital storytelling workshops will ask men to produce two- to three-minute videos about themselves and specific instances in their lives that illustrate their experience with stress, emphasizing their own resilience around topics related to housing, gender identity, poverty, discrimination, relationships, unemployment, or prior incarceration.
By examining MOCHA and MOCHA+, the research team wants to develop a model that identifies triggers of high stress among African-American men and strategies for coping. The researchers plan to enroll 25 men for each 12-week cycle, reaching a total of 240 men over the three-year period.
Graham indicated that experts have theories, but little data, about the levels and causes of disparities in stress between white men and black men, and between men and women. With a longer study, the team hopes to discover longitudinal data on factors such as discrimination, lack of social support, and unemployment, and aims to produce a model explaining these variables.
For more information about Dr. Graham's work on health equity, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the MOCHA program, contact the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services or go to http://www.
About the University of Massachusetts Amherst
UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth's flagship campus, is a nationally ranked public research university offering a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.
About Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA)
Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) was developed to improve the health and wellness of men of color. This collaborative effort enables men of color to engage in an educational and social experience with the support and motivation necessary to make lifestyle and community changes.