New weight-loss study focusing on stress — the diet killer

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rep dod stress diet orig 550UAB researchers received a record $602 million in grants and contracts in fiscal year 2019, marking a second year of double-digit percentage growth in funding. Despite the global outbreak of COVID–19, that productivity has increased in fiscal year 2020. At a faculty town hall meeting July 8, Chris Brown, Ph.D., vice president for Research, noted that new awards for sponsored activity are up by $38 million through June, a 10% year-over-year increase on FY2019.

You can keep up with the latest projects every Tuesday, when Brown’s office releases a list of the grants and contracts awarded the previous week (BlazerID required).

In this series, we’re spotlighting new or re-funded projects to offer a window into the groundbreaking, lifesaving work done by our colleagues around campus.

This week, we’re taking a look at a project to determine if culturally relevant stress-management strategies can help Black women lose weight.

Project title: Improving Weight Loss Outcomes of Black Women using a Culturally Relevant Stress Management Enhanced Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention

Principal investigator: Tiffany Carson, Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Preventive Medicine. Co-investigators include Monica Baskin, Ph.D., professor, Division of Preventive Medicine; Dustin Long, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Biostatistics; and Amy Warriner, M.D., assistant professor, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

Funding: $2.9 million total between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2025, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Stress, as many know firsthand, can lead to overeating. So what would happen if you people were taught cognitive, behavioral and distraction techniques to deal with stress, in addition to weight-loss strategies — and tailored these lessons directly to the target population?

That is the aim of a new clinical study led by Tiffany Carson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Preventive Medicine. “The purpose of the study is to determine whether a culturally tailored, stress-management-enhanced behavioral weight-loss intervention will lead to better weight-loss outcomes than a standard weight-loss intervention among Black women with high stress levels,” Carson said.

“The purpose of the study is to determine whether a culturally tailored, stress-management-enhanced behavioral weight-loss intervention will lead to better weight-loss outcomes than a standard weight-loss intervention among Black women with high stress levels.”

The $2.9 million study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, will enroll 340 participants, who will be randomly assigned to participate in either the stress-management-enhanced behavioral weight-loss program or a standard behavioral weight-loss program. “Each program consists of 24 group sessions over a 12-month period,” Carson said. “Participants in both groups will be given fat/calorie intake and physical activity goals and be taught evidence-based weight-loss strategies, including goal-setting, self-monitoring and leveraging social support. Participants in the stress-management-enhanced group also will receive evidence-based training on how to cope with life-stressors, including cognitive, behavioral and distraction techniques.”

The researchers will “measure weight, stress and several other behavioral and biological markers during the course of the study to determine whether the stress-management strategies lead to improved outcomes,” Carson said. Participants’ own perceptions of stress will be measured using the Perceived Stress Scale survey instrument. “We will also collect saliva samples to measure the cortisol-awakening response as an objective measure of stress,” Carson said. 

Carson plans to begin recruitment and screening in late 2020, with group sessions for those who enroll scheduled to start in January 2021. “We will follow the same schedule annually for the next four years to enroll four waves of individuals,” she said.

In the meantime, Carson’s team is developing their culturally tailored intervention. “We completed focus groups in summer 2019 to gather information about the unique stressors experienced by Black women and how they felt those stressors affected their weight management,” Carson said. Her team used this information to create an outline of the intervention, which includes a standard weight-management lesson plus a stress-management strategy — such as meditation with a focus on peace, spirituality and pride — for each session. “Currently, we are updating the written intervention materials to include cultural adaptations — for example, racially concordant images — and integrating the stress-management lessons,” she said.

“In the next several months, I will be looking for several staff members to support the grant,” Carson added. “Positions will include a Program Coordinator II and one to two interventionists. Desired skills for the Program Coordinator II position include prior experience with human subjects research, participant recruitment and data collection. The ideal interventionist would have master's-level training in health education/promotion and/or nutrition/dietetics.”