Last updated on October 2018

Peer Navigators to Address Obesity-Related Concerns for African Americans With Serious Mental Illness


Brief description of study

People with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder experience high rates of physical illness and die earlier than people without serious mental illness (WHO, 2005). Health differences seem to be worse among African Americans (Weber, Cowan, Millikan & Niebuhr, 2009). High rates of obesity among this group contribute to health and wellness concerns (de Hert et al., 2011), with African American women at higher risk of obesity than men. Behavioral weight loss interventions (BWLIs) may promote diet and physical activity that lead to weight loss, but healthy food and safe physical activity options are less available in low-income neighborhoods. Peer navigators have been found to be effective in addressing health differences, and may help people living in low-income communities find healthy food and activity resources (Fischer, Sauaia, & Kutner, 2007). In addition, traumatic experiences are common among persons with serious mental illness as well as African Americans, and may impact weight.

Through this project, investigators will test two interventions designed to address overweight and obesity among African Americans with serious mental illness. The first is a BWLI designed for persons with serious mental illness and adapted to meet the needs of African Americans. This program has 8-month intervention phase and 4-month maintenance phase. The intervention includes group weight management classes, group physical activity, individual visits to address barriers to meeting weight goals, and weigh-ins. The second intervention is a peer navigator program that assists people with serious mental illness in meeting their health needs in the community. Two-hundred and seventy (270) research participants will be recruited and randomly assigned to one of three conditions: BWLI program, BWLI program plus peer navigator, and treatment as usual (integrated physical and mental health care). Investigators will evaluate these interventions over a 12-month period, and will track weight change, health behaviors, physical and mental health, recovery, and quality of life. Investigators also seek to understand the impact of gender and trauma on outcomes. Investigators hypothesize that peer navigators will improve outcomes over the BWLI program alone. Findings will advance knowledge and services to reduce racial disparities in obesity and comorbid health conditions for African Americans with serious mental illnesses.

Detailed Study Description

Persons with serious mental illness experience disproportionate rates of physical health morbidity and mortality (WHO, 2005). One reason is a metabolic syndrome marked by significant obesity which seems even worse for African Americans. Although research suggests behavioral weight loss interventions (BWLIs) may promote healthy lifestyle behaviors (diet and exercise) that leads to weight loss, these programs are hindered by several social determinants of health found in low-income communities with food and activity deserts that undermine program goals. Preliminary evidence finds that peer navigators (service providers in recovery from serious mental illness) can help people to better avail existing healthcare programs, thereby improving health. Based on this evidence, our community-based participatory research (CBPR) project develops and tests two existing interventions to address the weight concerns of African Americans with serious mental illness:

  1. A BWLI developed for persons with serious mental illness (Goldberg et al., 2013) that will be evaluated for its responsiveness to the needs of African Americans with serious mental illness
  2. A peer navigator program (PNP) (Corrigan et al., 2017) that assists people with serious mental illness in meeting their health needs in the community; the PNP will be adapted so peer navigators can augment the impact of BWLI in food and activity deserts.

As compared with men, African American women with serious mental illness are at an even higher risk for lifetime prevalence of obesity (Baskaran et al., 2014; Galletly et al., 2012). Through an administrative supplement, investigators have augmented the approach of our study to understand the role of gender on the attainment of weight goals, with a specific focus on trauma, an experience of particular importance to women's health.

Two-hundred and seventy (270) African Americans with serious mental illness who are overweight or obese will be randomized to one of three conditions after baseline assessments: integrated physical and mental health care, integrated physical and mental health care plus BWLI, or integrated physical and mental health care plus BWLI and peer navigator (PN).

The BWLI has a 8-month intervention phase followed by a 4-month maintenance phase. The intervention includes group weight management classes, physical activity, individual visits to address barriers to meeting goals and to develop skills, and weigh-ins. PNs will partner with participants on BWLI assignments, meet with participants and BWLI facilitators, or accompany participants to health care appointments and follow-up. In addition, PNs and participants will team up to assess community diet and activity resources, and based on this review, will develop strategies to address their diet and physical activity needs.

Investigators seek 70 participants per condition (N=210) to reach statistical power goals. Investigators will recruit 270 participants to account for expected loss-to-followup. Investigators will enroll participants in discrete cohorts every nine months.

Investigators will analyze fidelity, process, outcome and impact data, including the effect of BWLI and BWLI and PN on weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, health behavior, physical and mental health, recovery and quality of life. Measures will be repeated at 4, 8, and 12 months. To understand the impact of gender, investigators will stratify the sample on gender at recruitment and analyze all program outcome measures by gender. To better understand the impact of trauma, investigators will determine if trauma exposure moderates the effect of the study intervention. Investigators will also conduct post-hoc analyses to determine if gender matching between PNs and participants (e.g., female-female and male-male) led to better effects.

Investigators' main hypothesis is that the BWLI and PN condition will lead to greater weight loss and enhanced health behaviors compared with the two other conditions. Findings will advance knowledge and services to reduce racial disparities in obesity and comorbid health conditions for African Americans with serious mental illnesses.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03382782

Contact Investigators or Research Sites near you

Start Over

Patrick Corrigan, PsyD

Illinois Institute of Technology
Chicago, IL United States
  Connect »

Erin Hantke, MPH

Heartland Health Centers
Chicago, IL United States
  Connect »

Danielle Lazar

Access Community Health Network
Chicago, IL United States
  Connect »