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Arnold School of Public Health

Brie Turner-McGrievy receives nearly $3.3 million NIH grant to reduce heart disease through nutrition-based approach

August 17, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, 

Brie Turner-McGrievy, associate professor of health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB), 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 Edward Frongillo (HPEB), Sara Wilcox (exercise science) and 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.

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 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 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.

“African Americans tend to lose less weight during behavioral interventions than their white counterparts and are more likely to discontinue participation in behavioral dietary interventions,” says Turner-McGrievy. “This combination of higher attrition and lower weight loss may be due to a failure to address issues that are culturally relevant to the African American population.”

If the project is successful at reducing cardiovascular risk factors and weight among African Americans, it has the potential to be disseminated through a variety of locations throughout the U.S., including restaurants, federally qualified health clinics, churches, or neighborhood community centers.


Brie Turner-McGrievy wins Early Career Investigator and Early Career Mentorship Awards from the Society of Behavioral Medicine


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