A new study led by researchers at the Decker School of Nursing will look at ways to improve heart healthy behaviors among rural women.
The work will be funded by a threeyear, $150,000 grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research.
“Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women in this country,” said Associate Professor Pamela Stewart Fahs, the principal investigator on this grant and director of the O’Connor Office of Rural Health Studies.
While rural women may not be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the rest of the population, they do face particular challenges. For instance, they were among the last groups in the country to start smoking – and they’re among the last to quit. Rural women may also have a harder time accessing health care and messages about healthy habits than suburban or urban women.
“I’ve seen a lot of the issues firsthand,” said Stewart Fahs, who grew up in southeast Kentucky. “I’ve also seen what socio-cultural aspects of rural living both protect and cause problems for those citizens.”
The study will involve a total of 176 women ages 45-65 at moderate to high risk for cardiovascular disease. Half will be from Delaware County in New York and the other half will be from a rural Virginia county.
Researchers will use two techniques in an effort to encourage study participants to be physically active, eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily and not smoke.
The first technique, called community intervention, will be available to all of the women in the study. That process will involve community leaders in designing a campaign to raise awareness of heart healthy behaviors through events and public service announcements.
The second technique, a series of nursing interventions, will be part of the program for half of the study participants. Those women will talk regularly with a nurse who will provide guidance about exercise and nutrition and reinforce information the women receive about heart healthy behaviors. This group will also participate in nurse-run group activities focused on diet, physical activity and tobacco avoidance.
The type of support the women receive will be matched to their level of interest in changing their behavior, Stewart Fahs said. For instance, it doesn’t help a woman who hasn’t been thinking about quitting smoking to encourage her to set a day to quit. It might be more appropriate to show her images of smokers’ lungs or provide information about the dangers of smoking.
“I believe that people are ready to change habits at different times,” Stewart Fahs said. “We will be matching our interventions to a person’s readiness to change.”
Graduate student Nikki Austin has worked with cardiac patients throughout her nursing career. She noted that rural residents are often underemployed and underinsured and sees this project as a chance to help people before they’re facing a cardiac crisis.
“It’s better for them, certainly, to be healthy,” Austin said. “I like the idea of giving them the keys they need to be well.”
Stewart Fahs noted that the study group for this project, the Women’s Health Care Partnership, has worked together in the past on issues related to cardiovascular health. Researchers previously documented the risks rural women face related to heart health.
This study’s multi-pronged intervention approach is a natural progression for the group, she said.
“It’s important to recognize that this is a team effort,” Stewart Fahs said. “As nurses we’re always interested in finding ways that we can make people’s lives healthier and better and that’s our goal here.”