December 18, 2018  

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Southern Miss Faculty Member Awarded NIH Grant for Health Disparities Research

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Jennifer Lemacks

Dr. Jennifer Lemacks, assistant professor in The University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Nutrition and Food Systems, has landed a National Institutes of Health grant for research focused on examining community-based solutions for health disparities in underserved populations.

The three-year, $439,291 R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) will support Lemacks’ Church Bridge intervention project.

“The proposed project will provide an evidence-based and technology supported, health intervention model for Southern, African American, and rural populations who continue to be disparately burdened by obesity and associated chronic disease such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Lemacks.

The project will assess the feasibility of church-based intervention, with a telehealth component, to reduce obesity and related chronic disease risk in rural, African American young families. Research will also determine the possibility of a mobile application for patient engagement with interventionists and health care providers, such as primary care providers and registered dietitians.

“By targeting young adults, ages 21 through 50 with families, the project will contribute to the long-term reduction of preventable chronic disease and related health care costs for the public,” said Lemacks.
The NIH awards AREA grants to educational institutions to support research and increase student exposure to academic research.

“Research grant awards from the National Institutes of Health are extremely competitive,” said Dr. Kathy Yadrick, associate dean for research in the College of Health and professor of nutrition and food systems. “For the Institutes that typically fund nutrition research, success rates in 2014 ranged from one in eight to only one in 14 submitted projects being funded.”

Graduate students in computer sciences and nutrition will be hired to assist with development and implementation of the project. Undergraduate workers and volunteers will also be recruited to assist with program delivery.

Project collaborators include Dr. Hwanseok Choi, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health; Southern Miss iTech; Judith Breland of Mississippi State University Extension Services; Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative (SeMRHI); and Stone County churches and physicians. Other research consultants include Dr. Penny Ralston, director of the Center for Better Health and Life at Florida State University; Dr. James Griffin medical doctor and chief medical officer of SeMRHI; Farhood Basiri, managing partner at Bellwether Software; and Rev. Raymond James, president of the Stone County chapter of the NAACP.

For more information about the Department of Food and Nutrition Systems in the Southern Miss College of Health, visit