Community Statewide News

$622K given to address health disparities with family health history tools

Flint native, community advocate and Michigan State University researcher, Kent Key, PhD, MPH, has been awarded a five-year, $622,835 grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to co-develop culturally appropriate family health history tools with African American community members.

African Americans suffer disproportionately across most health issues. A lack of knowledge about general familial health history coupled with a lack of racially appropriate health communication strategies makes early detection of disease difficult.

This challenge is true for many African American families in Flint. With seven years into the water crisis, families have heightened interest in inherited health as a result of concern around the generational impacts of lead exposure on health.

Knowledge is power, and knowing your ancestral health history gives families the power of prevention and early detection of disease. Health screenings are a proactive approach to addressing health issues like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, HIV, STDs/STIs, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Key hopes to break through the barriers that have made it difficult to have family health history conversations within African American families.

“We have to come up with creative ways to address health disparities, and we know that screenings can save lives,” Key said. “Family health histories are underutilized in African American families for a variety of reasons. From the stigma and embarrassment associated with being ill, religious beliefs, to generational barriers, to the notion that if you are of faith – you do not want to claim a health issue because sharing it is accepting it.”

Having a family health history informs providers on what screenings you may need for preventative care. But if you don’t have that information then you cannot take the preventative measures to improve health outcomes.

The research results will be especially important to generations of African American families and their primary care providers who recognize the importance of addressing racial and ethnic health disparities with health communication within the family structure.

“The African American community has historically and culturally been socialized to a culture of silence,” Key said. “Even when it comes to health, we avoid health conversations, and that silence is killing us.”

Flint community members with an interest in collaborating on inherited health via family health histories and its role in the prevention of disease, illness and death are invited to contribute to the conversation. Together, we will empower families, break the culture of silence and dispel the stigma associated with family health history.

“Family Health Histories: Creating a culturally tailored tool to reduce health disparities in the African American Community” is supported by the National Institute On Minority Health and Health Disparities under award number K01MD015079.

Kent Key, PhD, MPH

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