Herman Taylor, Jr, MD, MPH, on Fostering Health Equity With the Jackson Heart Study

The Jackson Heart Study is marking its 20th anniversary. According to its website, the Jackson Heart Study is “the largest single-site, community-based epidemiologic investigation of environmental and genetic factors associated with cardiovascular disease among African Americans ever undertaken.” In this video, Herman Taylor, Jr, MD, MPH, discusses the impact that the Jackson Heart Study has had on health equity in cardiology.

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Herman Alfred Taylor, Jr, MD, MPH, is a professor of medicine and the director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Previously, he led the Jackson Heart Study.



Hello, everyone. This is Herman Taylor. I’m a cardiologist at the Morehouse School of Medicine where I direct the Cardiovascular Research Institute. Prior to taking that role, however, I had the great pleasure of a career of running the Jackson Heart Study.

Jackson Heart Study, as some of you probably know, is the largest single‑site epidemiological study that’s longitudinal into the question of African American health and disease in the cardiovascular system in particular.

It’s been a giant undertaking. I think, to first contextualize it a little bit, people should understand that indeed it’s an epidemiological scientific enterprise, but it also, I believe, constitutes a major health equity experiment as well. What do I mean?

Clearly, Framingham’s style longitudinal investigation of heart disease in the South, a high‑risk region, and among African Americans, a high‑risk population, was something that was overdue in 2000 when the Jackson Heart Study was launched. Besides the importance of that work, there was other work that obviously needed to be done.

There was a dearth of African American providers as well as scientists interested in this issue of disparities.

There was an underinvestment in institutions of higher learning that prioritize the education and development of African American students into health care professionals, scientists, and other individuals who would impact health equity for the United States and lead us to a brighter future in that regard.

The Jackson Heart Study did its part and continues to do its part in addressing things beyond the pure epidemiology of disease by investing in 2 historically Black institutions in the Jackson area in order that they become substantive partners with the state’s academic medical center to look into the question of health disparities but also develop in those students and trainees the skill sets that can impact the health status of an entire group of people.

Over the 20 years of the existence of the Jackson Heart Study, dozens of graduates have gone on to do just that, and that’s a part of what the Jackson Heart Study truly is. Also, the Jackson Heart Study has been, over the years, of focus in the stimulus to help activism among the African Americans in Jackson.

The African American community in Jackson should be regarded as some of the most generous people on the planet for their generous support and participation in the Jackson Heart Study. What they have done by their support and guidance is also simultaneously lifted their own health literacy, brought a new understanding of the importance of research to an area of the country on a group of people that have every right to be very suspicious of research, and brought them to a level that many communities would envy in terms of sophistication about cardiovascular issues.

This is a step towards health equity, and I think it is a model for other large-scale studies that have as part of their intent to improve the health status of a group that has historically not enjoyed the health that they should.

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