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Valerie Lunsford

Valerie Lunsford, PhD, RN, Professor, received a grant from Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College and Washington University to study how African American women’s lack of physical activity could contribute to heart disease.

Heart disease has been identified as the number one killer of women in the United States and is more prevalent among African-American women than other ethnic groups. Fewer than half of African American women (41 percent) consider themselves well informed about cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association*.

Dr. Lunsford’s interest in cardiac disease in women and requirements during recovery lead to her dissertation research of women who had undergone a heart attack or stint placement, and how they integrated being more physically active as part of their rehabilitation.  Her research showed that after a heart attack, African-American women’s level of physical activity decreased radically, which could be a contributing factor to the causes and the development of heart disease.  

Dr. Lunsford has teamed up with Health Street, a local clinic supported by Washington University, to recruit women to participate in her research study. Participants are asked to use photography to identify the types of physical activities they engage in. They are given disposable cameras and directed to photograph things that encourage or hinder them from being more physically active. Using this qualitative approach, Dr. Lunsford then discusses with the participants their photographs and helps them find ways to integrate physical activities into their lifestyle, which can help improve their cardiovascular health.

As Dr. Lunsford continues to gather data, her desire is to develop an activity intervention that will encourage African-American women to be proactive in the fight against heart disease through increased physical activity. Dr. Lunsford’s experience working as a critical care nurse and her research on cardiovascular disease in women sparked her interest in this area. She hopes this research study will stimulate interest from undergraduate students, who could assist her with this project.

* Source:  Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2006 Update