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COVID-19 Spotlight: William Paterson University's Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey, MCHES® creates the "HeartSmarts Virtual Challenge"

NCHEC is extremely proud of the many health CHES® and MCHES® who serve as essential personnel in the continual fight against this global pandemic. They have assumed critical roles in the identification, control, and assurance of the needs of individuals and communities. They advocate fiercely for public protection measures, and support many other critical health education and health behavior measures during these very difficult times. As our nation moves forward in addressing and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of a competent certified health education workforce will be as significant and essential as ever before.

The following is part of a new series to highlight the amazing work efforts of our credential-holders.


Naa-Solo Tettey, EdD, MPH, MCHES® is an Associate Professor of Public Health at William Paterson University in New Jersey, and a former NCHEC Ambassador. She is also the creator and director of HeartSmarts at New York Presbyterian Hospital, a faith-based cardiovascular health education research program focused on eliminating health disparities related to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. As the lead researcher of this program, she works primarily with communities in the New York Tri-State area, specifically Brooklyn, Queens,
Harlem, Long Island, and New Jersey, which have also been greatly impacted by COVID-19.

In April, Dr. Tettey launched the HeartSmarts Virtual Healthy Heart Challenge to research the sustainability of community health education programs during a pandemic and also help participants focus on their health while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. This program was especially important for the Black and Latinx communities which have seen higher COVID-19 infection and death rates due to underlying health conditions. Participants were organized into 20 teams, each led by a HeartSmarts ambassador/community health educator. For seven weeks, team members attended weekly virtual health education classes taught by HeartSmarts ambassadors, and engaged in various health related activities to earn points including blood pressure self-monitoring, a step challenge, completing their family health history, and healthy food preparation. The teams with the highest points and the participants with the most steps earned prizes.  In addition, participants were introduced to the importance of culturally tailored exercise by completing an online version of the HeartSmarts Feel the Heartbeat African Dance Exercise class.

The HeartSmarts Virtual Challenge established social networks and provided support and accountability for people who otherwise may have been isolated. It also created an opportunity for new CHES certified health education graduates to practice their skills as trained HeartSmarts ambassadors. Some program highlights include:

  1. A heart attack survivor who improved her health and gained a new passion for exercise.
  2. A man whose father died from heart disease and was motivated by this program to become more physically active and eat healthier. He is now vegan and ran his first 5k on the last day of the challenge. 
  3. A group of young people in their 20s who participated in the challenge and influenced their parents, family members, and friends to also start walking and focusing on their health. 
  4. A group of women who completed the program together and experienced significant health improvements, as well as established new friendships centered around health and wellness.
  5. A young woman who lost several family members to COVID-19 and completed this program to improve her health and also honor their memory.

According to Dr. Tettey, "the results have been amazing. Participants lost weight, decreased their blood pressure, increased physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake, and improved their knowledge about heart disease. They also improved their skills and comfort with technology. I believe this program offers a positive story during these challenging times and demonstrates that community health education programs can continue and be effective even during a pandemic. Having the skills and knowledge required to be a Master Certified Health Education Specialist has equipped me with the strong foundation needed to develop and successfully execute HeartSmarts."

Dr. Tettey plans to continue the HeartSmarts Virtual Challenge research program in the fall. More information can be found at www.heartsmarts.com/heartsmarts-challenge and @heartsmarts on Instagram.

Posted by Jessica Wessner at 6:00 AM
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