Understanding the drivers behind health disparities within minority communities is no easy endeavor, so the University of Minnesota looks to experts like Kola Okuyemi, M.D., M.P.H., to identify and dissect the numerous factors that go into creating these divides.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota created the Program in Health Disparities Research and brought in Okuyemi to lead the way. Since then, he has worked to improve the health of minority communities by studying culturally tailored behavioral interventions and identifying systemic flaws.
Okuyemi looks at how modifying behavior can lead to avoiding certain health problems. He believes many severe health issues that plague the U.S. population are preventable.
“The leading cause of death in this country is still tobacco-related illness. Second is obesity and physical inactivity,” explained Okuyemi. “These are clearly preventable if we would just modify our behaviors.”
Through his research, Okuyemi discovered the current health care system isn’t benefitting certain minority groups. The current system has a top-down approach designed to tell people what to do to improve their health. However, what works for the majority doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Okuyemi believes disadvantaged communities need to incorporate behavioral interventions from within.
“We need a ground up approach, or a community-based participatory approach. Communities need to co-develop the interventions,” explained Okuyemi. “These groups will develop what is relevant and culturally appropriate to them, leading to better health.”
These pioneering ideas could potentially provide thousands in the Twin Cities metro area with tools to get the medical attention they need.
Okuyemi’s devotion to unpacking the healthcare system and incorporating grassroots tactics to improve it is what makes him this week’s AHC Gamechanger.