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Grantee Spotlight: Monica Baskin, Ph.D. - Studying Weight Loss for Cancer Prevention in African-American Women

, by CRCHD staff

Monica Baskin, Ph.D. 

Monica Baskin, Ph.D., a project leader for the Deep South Network, an NCI Community Networks Program Center (CNPC) at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, is currently testing the efficacy of evidence-based community strategies for obesity prevention and elimination of cancer health disparities among African-American women living in the Deep South. With the help of community members and the CNPC partners, she developed a weight-loss program which she hopes will become a new standard to help women maintain good health and a healthy weight for years to come.

Dr. Baskin research focus is on cancer prevention and control, and obesity prevention and treatment, and she has been developing culturally appropriate behavioral interventions for underserved communities throughout her career. Early in her career, she had a CRCHD CURE diversity supplement grant during which she studied obesity and its role in cancer.

Baskin’s current program targets obese African Americans living in the region. Scientific evidence has recently shown that obesity is linked to increased risk of several cancers, including breast, endometrium, and colorectal. Moreover, overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated 20% of all cancer-related deaths, and cancer death rates for African American women are higher than women of other races/ethnicities.

In addition, many African American women with cancer have co-morbid conditions, particularly diabetes and hypertension, which play a role in the cancer mortality disparities in this population. “There is a very high risk among African-American women for obesity-related cancers and other chronic conditions tied to weight status, diet and lack of physical activity,” Baskin added.

Baskin and her team recruited 409 African American women, aged 30-70 with a BMI of 25 or greater (normal BMI is 18-24) who live in one of four targeted counties in rural Alabama and Mississippi. To enter the study, participants had to have controlled blood pressure and glucose levels and express and a commitment to a two-year weight loss program. 

“We selected this age range as this is a group that statistically is at greater risk of cancer,” Baskin said. “They are also more likely than younger women or older women to have complete independence in determining food and activities.” The women were recruited by local Community Health Advisors as Research Partners (CHARPs) through social networking, word-of-mouth, church and civic meetings.

The participants were given diet plans adapted from behavioral weight loss/management curricula from prior NIH and CDC funded interventions that included African American women.  Program classes were conducted at community facilities and collected data at six months, 12 months and 24 months.

Throughout the study, the women were asked to fill out a food and fitness journal and complete 150 minutes of physical activity a week. For additional support, the women were given incentives such as water bottles, cookbooks, pedometers, and calorie counters. Progress reports were completed at various points during face-to-face meetings with the researchers so that participants could track their progress. The women were also given a series of medical tests to record glucose and lipids, blood pressure, height and weight for BMI calculation, and waist circumference. Baskin and her team collected 24-hour dietary recalls and a variety of questionnaires related to self-efficacy, body image, social support, depressive symptoms, and physical activity. Final participant assessments will be completed in August 2015, and final data analysis will be completed in late Fall 2015.

Baskin admits that “losing weight is not all that easy, but the rewards are tremendous. A weight loss as small as three percent has been associated with clinically significant reductions in health risks. The key is not to assume that you will drop five-six dress sizes in a couple of months, but rather to get on the right road to a lifetime of healthier eating, regular physical activity, and weight management.”

In addition to being a project leader for the Deep South Network CNPC, Baskin is also a principal investigator on an NCI/CRCHD R01 grant to promote weight loss in African American breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors in the Deep South. Baskin is investigating the effectiveness of a multilevel weight loss intervention in this population which may serve as a model for other obesity prevention efforts.

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