A new com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gram designed by a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity pro­fessor aims to improve the health of Boston res­i­dents of Puerto Rican descent, who suffer from mal­adies such as heart dis­ease and dia­betes at a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high rate.

Carmen Sceppa, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of health sci­ences in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and director of the grad­uate pro­gram in exer­cise sci­ence, will spear­head the Heart Healthy Ini­tia­tive, which begins in August.

Funded by the National Insti­tutes of Health, the Heart Healthy Ini­tia­tive is a project of Northeastern’s Center for Pop­u­la­tion Health and Health Dis­par­i­ties. The ini­tia­tive will pro­vide some 250 Boston res­i­dents with peer sup­port and a cul­tur­ally based diet and exer­cise program.

It has to be a com­mu­nity approach,” Sceppa said, noting that the goal of the project is to prove that par­tic­i­pa­tory community-​​based inter­ven­tions can be effec­tive and sustainable.

Research has showed there are some common solu­tions that apply to everyone, but there are also local lessons that can apply to spe­cific groups,” she said. “We’re taking these lessons about exer­cise and healthy eating and applying them locally so people can inte­grate them into their lives.”

The pro­gram will include small-​​group inter­ac­tions with peer men­tors, who will coor­di­nate group walks and activ­i­ties, many of which will be orga­nized in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Boston Cen­ters for Youth and Families.

The ini­tia­tive, Sceppa said, is tai­lored to fit the Puerto Rican community’s lifestyle. She noted that tra­di­tional Puerto Rican meals, for example, tend to include large quan­ti­ties of white rice, which the pro­gram does not advo­cate cut­ting out of their diet.

We don’t want them to elim­i­nate some­thing impor­tant to their cul­ture, but we want to show them they can make little changes that make a big dif­fer­ence by, say, adding veg­eta­bles or sub­sti­tuting brown rice for white,” Sceppa said.

When you think of med­ical advice, it tends to be very pre­scrip­tive: Stop doing that, start doing this,” Sceppa added. “We really want to reach people on a very per­sonal level to influ­ence the whole com­mu­nity — these inter­ven­tions must line up with cul­tural values and cannot feel like a chore if we want them to stick.”

The Heart Healthy Ini­tia­tive will kick off Aug. 11 with a party fea­turing free Zumba classes. The event will take place at Black­stone Com­mu­nity Center at 50 West Brook­line St. from noon to 4 p.m.

Puerto Rican adults inter­ested in learning about the Healthy Heart Ini­tia­tive should con­tact pro­gram man­ager Shirley Tejada at s.​tejada@​neu.​edu or 617–373-2505.

To learn more about the Northeastern’s Center for Pop­u­la­tion Health and Health Dis­par­i­ties please visit http://​www​.north​eastern​.edu/​c​p​h​hd/

View selected pub­li­ca­tions by Carmen Sceppa in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.