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Award furthers professor’s work with health tracking tools to benefit Black Americans

January 4, 2021

Exercise equipment, eating plans, sleep trackers—all have their place in promoting a healthy lifestyle. But to be effective, we have to use them.

Aqueasha Martin-Hammond

Aqueasha Martin-Hammond

Promoting heart-healthy habits is the goal of Aqueasha Martin-Hammond, Ph.D., who has received a Google Award for Inclusion Research. The $60,000 inaugural award is in partnership with a co-principal investigator, Tanjala S. Purnell, MPH, Ph.D., at the Johns Hopkins University schools of public health and medicine.

As an assistant professor with the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI, Martin-Hammond’s research focuses on human-computer interaction, and designing technology to assist individuals with health, wellness, and accessibility challenges as they age.

Her Google Award project, “Culturally Relevant Collaborative Health Tracking Tools for Motivating Heart-Healthy Behaviors Among African-Americans,” is aimed at improving cardiovascular health among underserved populations.

Martin-Hammond will investigate strategies for supporting collaborative digital health tracking for African-Americans by examining ways to design, translate, and scale an evidence-based, community health program.

From the Underground Railroad to digital technology

The original program, developed by epidemiologist and registered nurse Dr. Jeanne Charleston and colleagues, uses inspirational stories from the Underground Railroad to motivate heart-healthy behaviors among members. Martin-Hammond and her team will examine how digital technology can be integrated to better support both participants and community health workers.

According to the American Heart Association, the No. 1. killer for all Americans is heart disease, and stroke is also a leading cause of death. The risks of developing those diseases are even higher for Black Americans. In 2017, Black Americans were 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

The incidence of chronic illness is also higher among older adults, but early assessment and risk reduction can be key to lifelong prevention and management,  even in later years.

Creating tools that are accessible to all

In her Google Award research, “I will focus on investigating inclusive digital strategies to improve culturally relevant content delivery and communication among participants and community-health workers involved in the program,” Martin-Hammond says, “considering digital literacy, technology access, and existing communication challenges participants may encounter.

“From this work, we hope to learn more about designing collaborative digital tracking tools that support groups with diverse technology experiences and access,” she adds, “and that motivate heart-healthy behaviors among groups, such as African-Americans, at high risk of major cardiovascular disease.”

In addition, Martin-Hammond says, “We hope to uncover barriers to participation and strategies for addressing those barriers so that these tools are more accessible to all.”

A highly selective honor

“It is wonderful to see this prestigious Google Award for Inclusion being received by Aqueasha,” says Davide Bolchini, Professor and Chair of the Department of Human-Centered Computing. “Only 16 projects world-wide have been bestowed this highly selective award by Google, an important recognition of the significance and positive societal impact of Aqueasha’s research project.

“This work builds nicely on her research engagement with older adults to design new user interface approaches to improve their well-being, especially in underrepresented communities.”


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