You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.

Community Start, Health Smart

Dr. Carolyn Tucker of UF tackles obesity disparities in Florida

Carolyn Tucker, Professor of Psychology and UF Florida Blue Endowed Chair in Health Disparities Research, is leading two complementary programs designed to promote health and reduce obesity with a battery of community-oriented, multi-disciplinary intervention methods. Health disparities are the disproportionate occurrence of disease among those of marginalized race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, and obesity and its related diseases are no exception.

The first program, the nascent Obesity Disparities Center, will cultivate partnerships among community healthcare partnerships and research institutions to support obesity treatment and tackle obesity disparities in Jacksonville, Gainesville, and, eventually, throughout Florida. UF is now the first academic institution to have such a program.

The second program, the AME Health-Smart Church Model program, operates within and benefits from the social structure of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The program was developed in its first phase with participants from a network of churches; the second phase entailed measurement and intervention efforts to examine the factors of BMI and blood pressure. Now in its third phase, the program has received a $200,000 grant from the Humana Foundation to support the finalized program at six churches in the Jacksonville area.


FACT: Obesity is a national epidemic, costing the US $305 billion each year to treat hypertension, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and other obesity-related diseases.

FACT: In Florida, those suffering the highest rates of obesity are people of color, children, and those living below the poverty line.

FACT: Reducing the average body mass index in Florida by just 5 percent can lead to health care savings of more than $12 billion in 10 years.

FACT: Dr. Carolyn Tucker of the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program has been studying obesity for years and has developed a community-based program to combat this quiet killer.

FACT: You can help.

health-smart ame project description

Health-Smart AME is novel in that it (a) is culturally sensitive, evidence-based, practical, and portable; (b) is designed to be implemented in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner by trained church members (i.e., Health Empowerment Coaches); and (c) uses literacy-sensitive tools for increasing healthy eating and physical activity behaviors (called “health-smart behaviors”) among adult and child church members under whatever conditions that exist in their lives. Health-Smart AME is indeed needed given that obesity is higher among African Americans than other racial/ethnic groups in Florida and that the Florida Surgeon General has identified achieving a healthy weight among all Floridians as Florida’s highest priority. Health-Smart AME is funded by a grant from the Florida Blue Foundation.

The negative mental and physical health consequences that comes with obesity include a reduced quality of life, increased health care costs, and a shorter life span. Interventions to prevent and reduce obesity are desperately needed. The UF Obesity Disparities Center is committed to developing such interventions and to reducing the costly obesity disparities that plague Florida and the nation.
– Carolyn Tucker