WP Professor Naa-Solo Tettey Helps People Stay Healthy During Pandemic by Launching HeartSmarts, a Virtual Heart Healthy Challenge

Naa-Solo Tettey

Naa-Solo Tettey, associate professor of public health at William Paterson University, created the HeartSmarts Virtual Healthy Heart Challenge to research the sustainability of community health education programs during a pandemic. It has helped 120 participants in black and Latinx communities in the New York and New Jersey region focus on their health while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions.

Tettey is the creator and director of HeartSmarts at New York Presbyterian Hospital, a faith-based cardiovascular health education research program focused on eliminating health disparities in underserved communities. She saw the need for a creating a virtual program in March, when people were adjusting to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As more people became infected with COVID-19, the data showed a trend of the black community having higher rates of infection and death,” says Tettey. “One reason for this is the underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension that disproportionately impact the black community.”

As a health educator, I felt that it was a crucial time to share the HeartSmarts program and help people focus on their health,” she says.

The first group of participants have completed the program. For seven weeks, team members attended virtual health education classes taught by HeartSmarts ambassadors and learned about heart disease, its risk factors and prevention. They engaged in various activities including a step challenge and healthy meal preparation.

“The results have been amazing,” says Tettey. Many participants lost weight, decreased their blood pressure, improved their diet, and increased their physical activity.

Some of the program’s successes include:

  • A heart attack survivor who improved her health and gained a new passion for exercise.
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • A young woman who lost several family members to COVID-19 and completed this program to improve her health and also honor their memory.

“Health education and health related activities do not have to stop during a pandemic,” says Tettey. “Through creativity and resourcefulness, health education programs can provide people with an outlet to engage in health coping strategies to emerge stronger and more resilient.

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.