University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Associate Professor Pamela G. Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC, BBA, has received a one-year, $50,000 grant from the UAB Obesity Health Disparities Research Center (OHDRC) to conduct a pilot study for African American women using Fitbit technology to self-monitor lifestyle behaviors in an effort to reduce obesity and increase physical activity.
Approximately 58 percent of African American women ages 60 and older are classified as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to 38 percent of older white women. Physical activity is a leading health indicator priority, Bowen said, especially among African American women in the South, who are more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle.
“Black women are disproportionately burdened with being overweight and obese. Through this pilot project, we hope to determine how effective the addition of Fitbits, tailored text messages, and virtual peer support are in a physical activity regimen,” Bowen said. “We hope to continue research in this area in order to improve health outcomes for older, overweight African American women in our state and across the country.
Bowen’s project, “Does Fitbit Communities plus TOSS equal more physical activity among older, overweight African American women?” was selected from campus-wide submissions and builds upon her previous pilot project, the TOSS (Texting Older Sisters to Step) Study. This project developed physical activity text messages to engage older black women and encourage them to be more physically active.
During TOSS, women received daily text messages for 13 days and found that culturally tailored physical activity text messages were motivational and encouraged the participating women to engage in more physical activity. By incorporating Fitbit technologies into this study, Bowen hopes to research how TOSS text messages work with self-monitoring through Fitbit and peer support through Fitbit communities. This is the first study to examine Fitbit Communities as a strategy to increase or sustain physical activity behaviors and peer support among older overweight or obese black women.
Bowen’s long-term goal with her program of research is to reduce racial disparities in obesity or obesity-related conditions by increasing overall physical activity behaviors.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health has found that African Americans are 20 percent less likely to engage in active physical activity when compared to non-Hispanic whites. Obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease are also disproportionally higher among African Americans, making it crucial that we encourage physical activity in this community,” Bowen said. “However, older black women are underrepresented in research that examines the health impact of physical activity and how obesity, physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle affect overall health. We also know this population is more at risk for obesity, which is why they are the focus of our study. We hope to find the most effective ways to encourage and increase healthy behaviors such as physical activity, and to improve overall health for the community.”
Bowen is a family nurse practitioner who serves low-income and minority populations, and her research focuses on successful aging, obesity reduction, and increased physical activity. She is a three-time graduate from the UAB School of Nursing. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1988, Master of Science in Nursing in 1992 and PhD in 2012.