Five-year heart health study shows promise in eastern NC

April 28, 2015

A long-term study out of Lenoir County, North Carolina, has found promising possibilities for reducing cardiovascular disease risk in the eastern part of the state.

Alice Ammerman, DrPH Department of Nutrition

Dr. Alice Ammerman

Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, is the primary investigator of the “Heart Healthy Lenoir Project.”

Ammerman collaborated on the community-based research project with other researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University over a five-year period.

The study team chose Lenoir County as the research site because it has high minority and poverty rates, which have been linked to increased occurrence of cardiovascular disease. When the project began in 2010, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the county.

“This project represents a strong partnership with community partners ranging from clinicians and hospitals to restaurants and farmers markets,” Ammerman said.

The study aimed to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease in more than 500 participants. In the first phase of the project, the researchers formed a Community Advisory Committee made up of community members, health care providers, policy-makers and business leaders. This group designed a multi-pronged heart disease prevention program including clinical care, individual lifestyle changes and policy- and community-level changes to promote health.

In the second phase of the project, Ammerman and her team provided local doctors with a standard method to identify and support high-risk patients. They gave participants devices to monitor their blood pressure, advised them on healthy lifestyle choices and studied the impact of their genetic influences on their cardiovascular risk.

Team members also assisted county leaders in offering healthier options for residents by providing more places for exercise and promoting healthier menus in local restaurants.

When the study period concluded, many individuals in the program had reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease and also lost some weight. Learn more about Heart Healthy Lenoir at the project website.

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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