Researcher looks at racial identity as part of healthy lifestyle

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Ken Resnicow has worked with Black churches for more than a decade to foster healthy behavior among their members, including quitting smoking, getting more physical activity and eating healthier.

Churches often hold strong sway in Black communities, not only offering religious teachings but also social services and political advocacy. Resnicow recognized that and teamed with Black pastors to use their influence from the pulpit to help people live healthier lives.

Now with a deeper understanding of how race and ethnicity influence behavior, Resnicow is embarking on a new project to tailor health messages for African Americans based on their ethnic identity.

Beginning this fall, Resnicow, a professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, will begin testing a questionnaire to assess racial and ethnic beliefs. For example, the survey will ask for a reaction to the statement "Being Black is an important part of my self-image."

The goal is to use responses to determine the role that ethnicity and culture play in the lives of participants.

"To date, when we have developed health programs for African Americans, we have not adequately accounted for the variability within the community, particularly around ethnic and racial identity. Historically, if we were to deliver a health program to African Americans, Oprah Winfrey would receive the same messages as Louis Farrakhan. Dr. Dre would get the same brochure as Bill Cosby," Resnicow said. "We believe that effective health programs should take ethnic identity into account. Our survey responses will be used to match educational materials to each person's ethnic and cultural beliefs."

Study participants who score high on Afro-centric questions might receive information on healthy traditional diets or cancer rates in African countries. Those who score high on positive Black items, but low o

Contact: Colleen Newvine
University of Michigan

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