Seminar Held on African-American Female Health

New research explains African-American common health issues for women.

Waukesha- Dr. Amy Harley, assistant professor at UWM’s College of Health Sciences and Center of Urban Population Health, says “Wearing a lot of different hats, being workers, moms, and children all at the same time and trying to fit physical activity in with those things plays a role in their health patterns.”

Harley held a seminar at Carroll College on Wednesday addressing the public health crisis among African American women starting with the barriers of physical activity.
New research and developments done by Harley, explain why African American woman have remained inactive.

“She conducted her studies by using qualitative research methods which includes:

• Criterion Sampling
• Exclusion Criteria
• Recruitments of qualified women

As said by Harley, by recognizing strengths in economically and socio-politically disadvantaged communities, people may want to participate in research.

By participating in research, individuals can come up with ways to be more physically fit, despite their economic conditions, and in time improve community health.

Her new developments and research were influenced by how healthy lifestyles are a result of socio-economic, political and cultural factors, she also discovered, how cultures live, depends on their health statuses. Harley believes, barriers such as, the lack of health education, role models and adequate space result in unhealthy lifestyles.

Joanne Pearsall, an African American health researcher for UW-Madison, feels the barriers of physical activity had no impact on the illnesses involved within her family’s health history.

“Cancer, hypertension, and diabetes, a lot of issues that plague African American families historically are pretty well documented in my family. I think there are a lot of factors and stress plays a major role in that. I think my family as a whole was pretty physically active, so I wouldn’t say that was the key factor in it” says Pearsall.

One method that’s used in her research continuously is the “Physical Activity Companions Taxonomy” which is a system that’s designed to put African American women on the right path to live healthier lives. Harley believes sedentary women need the role functions that make up “Physical Activity Companions Taxonomy” in order to remain physically active. These roles are:

• Motivational
• Social
• Facilitative
• Instructional

Together these roles serve as a guide to inactive women to keep them in shape and healthy. The key goals of the role functions are to encourage women to get active by meeting with trainers, exercise groups, family and friends. It also requires them to get involved in social activities and companionships, by exercising as a social group while developing friendships.

Although the studies are aimed primarily at African American women, other women in other cultures can follow this guide as well.

Research and Developments

Harley began her research by using a qualitative method that focused on criterion sampling, exclusive criteria and recruitments. She recruited a group of fifteen interested urban African American women in local communities in Ohio. The women were then physically screened for approval, and from there, conducted in-depth interviews.

Exclusion criteria, Criterion sampling and Recruitments were the key elements used to begin her studies.

Women were required to have no terminal illnesses, no recent eating disorders, no mobility problems and played a varsity sport in high-school, college or professionally. They had to be between the ages of 25-45, have some post-high school education and have some type of commitment to physical activity. Most of the women had no children, and were typically active over all.

Developing a Healthier Community

Data collected from her research flashed on the overhead screen, indicating that urban African American women lacked peer support, social support and friendships. If more women received the proper education on how important health is, and how staying physically active will keep them in shape, then the better off communities will be.

The seminar was a class room setting, with granite table tops and cushioned chairs, full of alert faces and attentive minds as students quickly raised their hands, when Dr. Harley asked whose interest was in public health.

“Well I hope by going out and talking about my work, it will get people excited about studying physical activity, maybe using some different methodologies and by leaving more and more people interested and focusing on this area, we can only improve the health of the community,” says Harley.

“I think, you know obviously this work is targeted towards improving the health in African American communities, but as I said towards the end (of the seminar), I think some of what we’re learning is really broadly applicable to women in general,” says Harley.

Physical Activity Barriers

Harley feels, previous studies done by other doctors, left this idea of physical activity barriers out of their studies. A few of the barriers she believed to be a problem, in the African American community, was the lack of physical activity related to health education, role models, adequate space and safe space. She feels women have to recognize the importance of social support.

Tom Pahnke, a physical therapy exercise science professor at Carroll College also feels the lack of physical activity isn’t the only thing hindering African American women from living healthier lives.

“……The lower the socio-economic status, the more responsibilities some people have. They have the responsibilities in trying to provide food, shelter and clothing for their family. There’s many stresses in their lives, and often times their own health gets pushed to the way side,” says Pahnke.

Harley feels it’s necessary to spread the knowledge and data she’s collected from her studies to not only African American communities, but to improve the health of our nation as a whole.

She will be hosting another seminar in the UWM student union on Tuesday, Nov. 17 , titled “Hide and Seek: The support experiences of women living with HIV.”


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