Because social media has become arguably too pervasive, several studies have been conducted over the years to look at the impact it has on our mental health. Inquiring even further about how these digital platforms impact Black women’s health, Kalynda C. Smith, an assistant professor at Hairston College’s Department of Psychology, has received a grant to conduct a study on the topic. However, there will be a specific focus on the effects of social media on Black women’s physical health. 

The title of the four-year grant is “How Health and Weight Management Social Media Messages Targeting African American Women Impact Health Behaviors.” It was awarded by The National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The study hopes to understand how social media content centered around physical appearance affects the diet and fitness habits of African American Gen Z women. 

“These women have been exposed to social media messages the majority of their lives, compared with older groups, but there is little research that examines how these messages influence their self-presentation, self-esteem, and health habits,” said Smith. “This study will address how social media can be used as a preventative measure to address chronic conditions, like diabetes, that disproportionately affect the Black/African American community in the United States.”

The findings from this study could be helpful in addressing the prevalence of health issues like diabetes among Black people. According to the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services Office of Minority Health, 11.7 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks versus only 7.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites have diabetes. 

Smith won’t be doing the study alone–she plans to include up to four Black/African American psychology undergraduates and two students in the M.S. in health psychology program who will help with research. The opportunity will also serve as a form of training to help prep them for various careers in psychology. 

The grant to Smith was made possible thanks to the Support for Research Excellence (SuRE) mechanism. The program supports research capacity building at U.S. higher education institutions that receive limited NIH research support. It also extends opportunities to underrepresented students in biomedical research and also aims to improve the research environment at the applicant institutions.

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