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Health food for the soul

Published: June 24th, 2008

Category: Spotlights

Carolyn M. Tucker

Carolyn M. Tucker

Distinguished Alumni Professor
Department of Psychology

Carolyn M. Tucker was raised in a small Virginian country town, in a family low in income but rich in love and support.

Part of showing that love was preparing large home-cooked meals that may have nourished the soul but inadvertently fed the body too much saturated fat and cholesterol.

“For many African-Americans, food is a way of expressing our love and affection and honoring our past,” said Tucker, who once weighed more than 200 pounds.

To protect families such as hers from obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other illnesses, Tucker, now a UF psychology professor with a joint appointment in Psychology and Community Health and Family Medicine, has launched the Family Health Self-Empowerment Project for Modifying and Preventing Obesity. Funded by a $1.1 million grant from The PepsiCo Foundation, the project designed to promote healthier lifestyles among children, adolescents, and their caregivers in low-income families.

More than 600 families will participate in a health promotion training program over the next two years in communities across the US. Fun interactive culturally sensitive workshops will be tested to determine their effectiveness as interventions to give participating families the education and training they need to take control of their health behaviors and their weight.

“We are going to use a motivational and empowerment approach. This approach separates our program from others,” Tucker said. “We’ll focus on promoting health self-motivation among participants and teaching them how they can be in control of their health. They will learn how to read nutrition labels, how they can cook their favorite foods in more healthy ways, and how to overcome what they see as barriers to engaging in a healthy lifestyle.”

The project is not the first in which Tucker has used her research to help minorities. She has completed the Culturally Sensitive Teacher Training Research Project, which measured the impact of training teachers to use a culturally sensitive student-empowerment approach for enhancing the academic performance and reducing behavior problems among children in their classrooms. Tucker also has conducted the federally funded Culturally Sensitive Health Care Research Project, which defined, assessed, and evaluated whether providing culturally sensitive health care to patients affected their treatment adherence and health outcomes.

Because of that latter research, Tucker in April 2007 was awarded a $236,000 grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to obtain national data for evaluating the usefulness of her inventories for evaluating and promoting patient-centered culturally sensitive health care. This grant also was awarded to test a program that she has developed for improving physical health and quality of life among adult culturally diverse patients with Type II Diabetes.

Tucker was one of the first black students to earn a PhD in psychology from the State University of New York-Stony Brook. In her own research labs here at UF, she fosters and promotes a culturally diverse environment. Among the 30 undergraduate researchers and 11 graduate students working on one or the other of her two large research teams, 16 different countries are represented. Indeed, students of all backgrounds have found Tucker to be a life-changing mentor. In 2003, she was awarded UF’s Doctoral Dissertation Advisor and Mentoring Award.

“A passion of mine is conducting research aimed at health promotion and reducing health disparities, and preparing the next generation of researchers-both minority and majority students-who are committed to minority health and reducing health disparities,” she said. “If I have any kind of legacy, I hope it will be this research and mentoring. Right now there is such a strong need for both.”

Feature by Buffy Lockette

Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography

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