School of Nursing researcher to study exercise and nutrition in rural Latinas

Advertisements, news articles and entire reality TV series are based on the common knowledge that obesity, physical inactivity and a poor diet are risk factors for number of chronic illnesses and certain cancers. We also know that eating better and being active can turn those negative diagnoses around.

Cindy Perry (left) meets with community members in rural Washington State.
Cindy Perry (left) meets with community members in rural Washington State.

Cynthia Perry, Ph.D., F.N.P.-B.C., associate professor in the OHSU School of Nursing and director of the family nurse practitioner program, is taking this concept to a targeted audience with a two-year research study, “Fuerte y Sanas: Adaptation of an exercise and nutrition program for rural Latinas.” Through a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Perry is expanding on previous work promoting physical activity with rural Latino youth to introduce interventions that can reduce disparities related to physical inactivity and poor diet among Latinas in the Yakima Valley of Washington.

Census data shows that Latinas are less active and bear a disproportionate burden from physical inactivity and dietary-related negative health consequences as compared women in the general population. For example, the prevalence of obesity among U.S. Latinas is 44 percent compared with 32.6 percent in non-Latino white women. The prevalence of diabetes is 13.2 percent in Latinos compared with 7.6 percent in whites and Latino adults were 30 percent less likely to engage in physical activity.

Perry has been working with the Latina community in Sunnyside, Wash., since 2007, prior to coming to OHSU in July 2013. A former mentor worked with this community for two decades, inspiring Perry to work with this community and look at physical activity in children and now with Latina adults. She’s found that one way to address the gaps in health is to deliver culturally and linguistically meaningful interventions designed to reduce weight, increase physical activity, and improve dietary habits.

Perry’s study will entail adapting and testing a theory- and evidence-based physical activity program originally developed for rural white women. The curriculum – Strong Women, Healthy Hearts – is a 12-week exercise and nutrition program – has been shown to decrease weight, increase physical activity and improve cardiorespiratory fitness and dietary habits. Perry aims to extend the reach of the program as an avenue to addressing the health disparities experienced by this population.

Over two years, Perry will convene a community advisory board, made up of eight Latinas, to serve as a touchstone for learning what elements of the curriculum are most meaningful and how best to adapt the material for this population. She will recruit participants to attend classes two times a week for 12 weeks and measure fitness and activity level, attendance, satisfaction surveys, and the feasibility of running the program on a long-term basis. After this project, Perry hopes to write a larger grant to bring the curriculum to additional rural Latina communities in Washington, Oregon, and beyond.

Perry’s study is supported through a R03 grant 1R03CA197657-01 from the National Cancer Institute.