A comprehensive behavioral research and community health program helmed by Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, Ph.D., associate director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, College Station, is improving health and related behaviors among people living in rural communities.
Seguin-Fowler’s efforts will be recognized as an important contribution to the discipline of cardiovascular behavioral medicine. She will receive the Kenneth E. Freedland Founder’s Award for continued dedication to the field.
Seguin-Fowler and her team have developed community-based, health-promoting studies for nearly two decades. Among other efforts, they developed the Strong Hearts, Healthy Communities program beginning in 2013 — a response to rural health disparities, especially related to cardiovascular disease.
In randomized trials with rural residents, sedentary women adhering to the program increased physical activity, consumed healthier diets and achieved healthier body weights.
A grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, supported the study. Collectively, the results translated to a statistically and clinically meaningful improvement in the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 heart health score.
A new study
Now, Seguin-Fowler’s team with collaborators at Cornell University will advance this work through a new study funded by the National Cancer Institute at NIH. Their civic engagement approach will continue to hinge on policy, system and environmental change in rural communities.
Their goal is to make healthy living choices accessible.
“We know that while rural places provide unique and appreciated assets, such as cohesion and sense of community, there are also social and geographic challenges that can make healthy choices more challenging,” Seguin-Fowler said. “Our new study aims to work with individuals, social networks, community organizations and local policies to leverage the strengths of rural communities while reducing barriers to healthy living.”
The new study is the first randomized trial of its kind. It is the culmination of seven years of developing and refining the community-based, civic engagement approach developed by Seguin-Fowler’s team and partners in more than 30 communities.
When the new study launches later this year, Seguin-Fowler’s team will follow more than 1,700 residents of 10 medically underserved rural communities over four years, and they will measure impact across multiple dimensions of health and behavior.
“While we’ve made great strides in advancing study participants’ health in rural communities,” Seguin-Fowler said, “we need to continue to develop, test and refine approaches that can reduce risk of chronic diseases and their associated healthcare costs through multilevel interventions.”
The Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Cardiovascular Disease Special Interest Group, or SIG, announced Seguin-Fowler’s Kenneth E. Freedland Founder’s Award in February. The awards ceremony recognizing her field contributions was originally slated for April, but it has been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The group chooses recipients in honor of Freedland, who created the SIG in 2018. It recognizes advancement in the field as well as achievements in reducing the public health burdens of cardiovascular disease.
Seguin-Fowler joins Catherine Stoney of NIH as a dual recipient of the award.
“It is a great honor to receive this award, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue this line of research to help reduce the enormous burden of cardiovascular diseases and other largely preventable chronic diseases, particularly for the most at-risk populations,” Seguin-Fowler said.
In addition to her role as associate director of AgriLife Research, Seguin-Fowler is an associate professor of nutrition at Texas A&M University, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a registered dietician. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition communications and a doctorate in food policy and applied nutrition, both from Tufts University.