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Press Release

Cal Poly Center for Health Research Receives $5.6 Million National Institute of Health Grant

Contact: Nick Wilson


SAN LUIS OBISPO — The largest research grant received by Cal Poly’s Center for Health Research —$5.6 million in National Institute of Health (NIH) funding— will promote and study cardiovascular health among pregnant women and infants.

The grant is part of a multi-phase, seven-year research project involving more than 500 participants in California and Rhode Island enrolled in programs with home health visitation services, such as the nonprofit Healthy Families for America that annually conducts over 1 million home visits from its nearly 600 program sites in 38 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories and Israel.

The grant is part of the NIH Early Intervention to Promote Cardiovascular Health of Mothers and Children (ENRICH) program, to promote heart health and address health disparities in low-income mothers and their infants living in low-resource communities through the babies’ first six months.

While some program specifics have yet to be implemented, the home visits will assist clients by providing health care and social service needs.

About 60% of the participants in the Cal Poly grant study will be Hispanic women in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Fresno counties.

Suzanne Phelan

“It’s really trying to promote long-term heart health in families who have been historically minoritized, underrepresented and low-resourced in our region,” said Suzanne Phelan, director of the Center for Health Research and a Cal Poly professor of kinesiology and public health. Phelan is the principal investigator leading the research effort.

The research will entail program development, implementation and evaluation of a new program designed to promote cardiac health in women and children. In collaboration with local home visiting partners, the program seeks to reduce such heart disease risk factors as obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, poor diets, stress and poor sleep.

Cal Poly student researchers will track the effects on participants.

“The population that we’re working with tends to be younger moms, and we’re trying to promote their health years before they’d likely to get cardiovascular disease,” she said. “Reduced weight and reduced waist circumference lower the disease risk for postpartum moms. Intervention helps babies during pregnancy to try to prevent later disease development in them, as well.”

Cal Poly students and faculty studying statistics and world languages and cultures are collaborating with counterparts at Brown University, a private research institution in Providence, Rhode Island, and other centers and home visiting programs to develop and evaluate how participants respond.

Work on the new study has begun. After the current two-year, $1.3 million planning phase, NIH officials will review the progress for approval of the remaining $4.3 million to study the effects of the intervention over the final five years of the grant.

Phelan estimates that 35 students will be heavily involved over the seven-year duration — about five per year.

The competitive grant is one of seven awarded through the NIH’s ENRICH program, with similar grants also awarded to separate research teams in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Missouri, Colorado and Illinois.

The research that Phelan’s team was awarded will take place in California and Rhode Island and will involve 550 women (275 from each state).

The heart health program, anticipated to include an app, will supplement the work of health advocates who make home visits, with the goal of measurable weight-loss and other beneficial results within the first 12 to 18 months. Free cell phones will be made available to participants who lack a device.

The research team expects to develop and implement strategies around healthy eating, activity, obesity prevention and other cardiovascular health behaviors.

The American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential Eight” considers the following measures to help lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and other major health problems: diet; physical activity; nicotine exposure; sleep duration; weight; cholesterol; blood sugar; and blood pressure.

About the Cal Poly Center for Health Research

The center facilitates multidisciplinary research in the prevention and treatment of obesity and related chronic diseases. Research ranges from the cellular to social- ecological, with a mission to promote health equity and lead to improved quality of life. The center has received more than $26 million in grant funding for research, including studies related to breast cancer, maternal health, weight management, sexual and reproductive health and infant feeding. Visit