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Release: July 18, 2000

UI students win award for paper on minority women's health initiative

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A paper written by two University of Iowa students took second place in a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Written by Tracy Reittinger, a second-year medical student, and Mary Lee Kreger, a graduate student in nursing, the paper won in the interdisciplinary category of the U.S Secretary's Award for Innovation in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

The award-winning paper outlined the collaboration between Victory Temple Apostolic Church of God in Iowa City and UI students and faculty in establishing a program aimed at preventing and solving weight problems of minority women.

The project, called the Victory Temple Minority Women's Health Initiative, began four years ago as the brainchild of LaKeetha Ringer, pastor of Victory Temple Apostolic Church of God. Ringer, who had been diagnosed with diabetes, was concerned about the large number of overweight women among the mostly African-American members of the congregation. She asked assistant pastor Beleta Rush, who has a background in biology and clinical research, to put together a health seminar for the women of the church. After the seminar, Rush began surveying members about their exercise and eating patterns. The results of the survey convinced Ringer and Rush that health and nutrition education was needed.

Rush contacted Kathleen Buckwalter, Ph.D., UI associate provost for health sciences, who sent an e-mail requesting help from health science students and faculty. Excited by the concept, Reittinger and Kreger were among the first to respond and jumped into the recruiting effort. Approximately 60 students volunteered and last November gave health assessments and nutrition counseling to the 35 church members participating in the project. Students, overseen by faculty members, give assessments to participants every three months.

According to Rush, they have already seen results from what she refers to as a "holistic approach," emphasizing mental and spiritual as well as physical health. "Participants with high pulse rates and blood pressure have been able to bring them down. In part, this is because they are learning to cook at home and eat healthier meals," Rush said.

Equipment and supplies were donated to the Initiative by Buckwalter's office. Reittinger and Kreger, along with project participant Sonya Davis, have now begun soliciting donations that they call "feel-goods" from local businesses, such as fitness equipment, manicures, and fitness center passes, to be used as goal reinforcement for women participating in the project.

For Reittinger and Kreger, the project was an opportunity to take their health care training into a new realm.

"Every person that becomes a health care professional is a leader in the community," said Reittinger. "It's important to be familiar with the whole person, including cultural or religious aspects, in addition to medical."

Future changes are planned for the ongoing initiative, such as the inclusion of other minority groups and men.

Reittinger and Kreger received the $5,000 award at a ceremony held June 9 in Washington, D.C., and plan to donate the money to the Minority Women's Health Initiative. They were accompanied on the trip by faculty sponsors Tess Judge-Ellis, clinical assistant professor of nursing, and Marian Schwabbauer, Ph.D., assistant dean for student affairs and curriculum at the UI College of Medicine.


University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.