Improving the Health Status of African American Males

By Wayne T. Harris, Ph.D.
Project Director and Contact Principal Investigator
Hampton University Minority Men’s Health Initiative

It gives me great pleasure to contribute to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) blog, NIMHD Insights. While the health status of all groups in the United States has improved over the past century, significant gaps remain between the health status of African Americans and other minority groups, and that of the general population. For example, in 1950,1 the life expectancy of an African American male at birth was 59, while that of a Caucasian male was 68. In 2014,1 the life expectancy at birth for an African American male increased to 72.0 while that for a Caucasian male increased to 76.5. Similar gaps exist in the health status and health outcomes of minority populations using a variety of measures, and clearly more work needs to be done.

The Hampton University Minority Men’s Health Initiative (MMHI) exists to contribute to the achievement of one of the overarching goals of Healthy People 2020: “to achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups.” Research has consistently shown that disease management and prevention efforts related to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and asthma lead to long-term improvement in outcomes.2 But these research findings have not been translated into sustainable, community-based programs. Furthermore, violence prevention efforts are clearly needed to reduce the significant loss of life due to homicide – the eighth leading cause of death among African Americans in 2014, and the fifth leading cause of death among African American males in 2014.1 MMHI is a program based on collaboration between selected regional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to leverage resources in order to increase research into the causes and solutions for health disparities, increase community outreach and education, and promote effective prevention and/or treatment activities. As part of the National Institutes of Health and NIMHD’s efforts to advance engaged and transdisciplinary research, MMHI serves as a Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center (TCC) for research on minority men’s health.

Through this collaboration, and using the expertise of faculty, administration, staff, and community partners, MMHI supports ongoing research projects in cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk reduction, diabetes, and violence prevention. MMHI also supports 1-year research seed projects and 2-year research pilot projects aimed at improving health outcomes among minority males. Two specific examples of activities conducted by MMHI are the Promis Program, which is focused on violence prevention, and the Heart Strong Program, which focuses on CVD risk reduction in African American men in rural southern Virginia.

In 2016 and 2017, 49 young men ages 12 to 18 were enrolled in the Promis Program. This program provides meetings and workshop sessions facilitated by male volunteers who serve as mentors. MMHI provides training for workshop facilitators, co-facilitators, and peer mentors, and conducts ongoing evaluation using mentor, retention, and engagement surveys.

The Heart Strong Program uses a community-based, participatory research approach to design and test a behavioral intervention to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Secondarily, the project seeks to understand barriers and facilitators to healthy lifestyle (e.g., physical activity and diet) and to develop a culturally, contextually, and gender-sensitive intervention to improve healthy eating and physical activity. In 2017, 40 African American men ages 21 to 74 from the Brunswick and Greensville/Emporia areas were enrolled in the program. As part of the program, the men receive monthly memberships at local exercise facilities; weekly personal training; nutrition and cooking health classes; and CVD health education in a large group setting. Individuals can also participate in smaller social support groups.

The results of these and other MMHI activities will be used to develop future long-term and expanded research studies, inform health policy decisions, and initiate sustainable community-based activities aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminating health disparities.


1. National Center for Health Statistics. (2016). Health, United States, 2015: With special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

2. Parekh, A. K., Goodman, R. A., Gordon, C., Koh, H. K., & The HHS Interagency Workgroup on Multiple Chronic Conditions. (2011). Managing multiple chronic conditions: A strategic framework for improving health outcomes and quality of life. Public Health Reports, 126(4), 460–471.

Categories: Scientific Research
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