The Personal Connection at the Heart of Equity in the Heart Health Outcomes Lab – VCU News

Portrait outside of Anika Hines, Ph.D.

Anika L. Hines, Ph.D., was a thoughtful and insightful child. Growing up in one of the only black households in her apartment building in suburban Norfolk, Virginia, she wondered if anyone else noticed the inequities around her, especially in health. Before she even heard the term “health disparities,” she saw them in her own life.

“From an early age, I observed that African Americans lived shorter and sicker lives. At least that was the case due to premature deaths and illnesses in my family” , Hines said, “I wondered if other people saw it the way I did, but I didn’t know if that was something I needed to talk about.”

Now assistant professor and researcher at the Department of Health Behavior and Policy to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Hines has built her career around finding answers to the questions she began to formulate as a child. With a master’s degree in public health, a doctorate in health policy, years of industry research and a postdoctoral fellowship under her belt, Hines joined the faculty at VCU School of Medicine in 2018. She directs the Equity Lab in Cardiovascular Health Outcomes, where she and a group of students investigate how psychological stressors related to race and other social determinants of health affect cardiovascular health.

As a recipient of a Career Development Fellowship for Mentored Researchers from

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Hines will soon launch a project to design new interventions to mitigate cardiovascular risk in young black women. Participants between the ages of 18 and 39 will wear heart monitors for a two-week period, and Hines and his team will identify different types of stressors that cause an increase in heart rate. They will then use the data to develop an intervention that helps women manage acute stress and make lifestyle changes to manage chronic stress over time.

“My work focuses on the mind-body continuum and how experiences in our environments, not just personal but structural factors, affect our behaviors and health outcomes,” Hines said. “We look at socio-ecological frameworks, how individuals fit into their families and communities and how they unfold to produce outcomes.”

Walk the boardwalk

Sarah Collins, Registered Dietitian, Ph.D. Candidate Health Policy and Research Doctoral Program and one of Hines’ mentees, examines how housing situations and food insecurity relate to the impact on blood pressure, a key outcome of cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease and death from heart attack are roughly three times more likely in homeless people than in those with stable housing, and Collins aims to bring its findings to local policy makers to establish a framework to address environmental stressors and improve health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

Collins joined the lab because she admired Hines’ approach to research, with “one foot in policy and the other in implementation”, and she quickly realized that her mentor n was not just a dedicated educator and researcher, but a person of integrity who practices what he preaches.

“She’s taking her vacation,” Collins said. “There are a lot of teachers who don’t do that, but having a mentor that you can actually see creating a healthy work-life balance is incredibly valuable.”

Alexandria Ashe, Associate Director of Research Integrity and Ethics at Office of the Vice-President for Research and Innovation and a December 2021 graduate from VCU Master’s Program in Public Healthechoes this sentiment.

“She’s really passionate about what she does and about us all taking care of ourselves,” Ashe said. “She’s really open about when she needs time to unwind, which allows us to learn how we can take a break and take mental health breaks as well.”

Hines helped Ashe formulate the central question of her MPH capstone project, which examined the physiological impacts of microaggressions in black women. Ashe used data from a survey of about 140 people between the ages of 18 and 40 who identified as black and female, asking about their mental health, physical health, feelings at work and level of self-esteem. stress. To her knowledge, this was the first time she had seen a dataset representing affluent and successful black women, whose environmental stressors did not include housing insecurity or financial problems. The results overwhelmingly revealed that these “well-established, highly supported people with high resilience scores” still reported high levels of stress, especially at work. ?

For me as a black woman, I thought if I got a degree, people would listen. What I saw in the survey is that education doesn’t necessarily change that. He revealed there was something more to explore about moving through the world as a black woman and how subtle interpersonal interactions can impact health and well-being.

“For me as a black woman, I thought if I got a degree, people would listen,” said Ashe, who felt ignored and ignored in the workplace. “What I saw in the survey is that education doesn’t necessarily change that. He revealed there was something more to explore about moving through the world as a black woman, and how subtle interpersonal interactions can impact health and well-being.

Before Ashe joined the lab, she said she didn’t realize the question of microaggressions needed to be asked. But it immediately resonated with her because, as she learned in academia, “people care about what they do because they connect with it.”

That couldn’t be truer for Hines.

Family ties

The tragic loss of her brother, who was just 25 when he died suddenly, set Hines on a path to public health, studying communities and structural systems to address health disparities. Since her brother’s death, Hines has also lost her father to cardiovascular health issues – which she attributes to the grief and psychological stress of losing her son which “inevitably led to his physical deterioration” – and her mother has a heart attack.

“My family was a so-called ‘good family’ in many ways. We went to school, we had enough money, we went on vacation, we played together. We had all the right ingredients to live long, and I’ve spent my entire career trying to better understand this area,” Hines said. “Fortunately, I have a younger brother with whom I am very close. But my central family is 60% gone”.

As Hines tugs at the strings to slowly unravel the tangle of social determinants and health inequities, she continues to see herself and her entire family in the statistics she uncovers and the policies she targets. to improve. And it is both a burden and a privilege.

“There’s a certain level of stress and self-care required when it comes to these issues that affect you so closely,” Hines said. “There is a balance that I have to achieve, between the burden of being someone who is part of the marginalized group that suffers these results, and also the privilege of being in a space where I can use the platform whose I have to make the voice of people heard without so many resources heard.