NIH awards psychology professor prestigious Career Development Award

NIH awards psychology professor prestigious Career Development Award

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$700,000 grant will fund research on midlife women’s health

A $700,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may very well advance Dr. Danielle Arigo’s research career and the health of midlife women in New Jersey and beyond.

The NIH recently presented Arigo, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science & Mathematics at Rowan University, with a Career Development Award.

That’s a first for a professor on Rowan’s main campus in Glassboro, but it’s significant for more than that.

Investing in a researcher

Career Development Awards are an investment of sorts: according to the NIH, the organization presents them to recipients “to bring candidates to the point where they are able to conduct their research independently and are competitive for major grant support.”

The value is not lost on the 30something Arigo, who is matter of fact in acknowledging how much one means to someone who is early in her career, believing the funding can “open infinite doors,” including those to major NIH funding.

“It’s a pretty big deal. It’s awarded to investigators who show unique potential to become leading experts in a particular field. I don’t know that I can put into words how much this means to me,” she said. “I worked my whole career to work on something this big and important. It’s a testament to the work we proposed and that they saw a lot of promise in me.”

That’s where the midlife women come in.

Helping midlife women

Arigo, who also is an adjunct assistant professor of family medicine at the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, is trying to improve the health of those women by studying and promoting their physical activity.

Menopause, weight issues and other conditions can impact the cardiovascular health and mortality of midlife women. Arigo is using her NIH award, which runs through February 2023, to research the psychosocial barriers that women ages 40 to 60 years old confront in maintaining physical activity, which is critical to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and early death.

Why don’t these women exercise? Or why do they on Monday but not on Tuesday?

What Arigo knows so far, through her own and others’ research, is that psychosocial barriers like bad moods, lack of body satisfaction and comparisons to other women impact some women.

Examining psychosocial barriers

She and her team will examine relations between real-time psychosocial experiences (like mood, body satisfaction, social comparison) and physical activity among midlife women with a BMI between 27 and 50 and one additional cardiovascular risk marker, such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or smoking.

Ultimately, her goal is to develop a mobile health tool tailored to midlife women that addresses each individual’s specific needs, prompting her to exercise based on her own data.

“You can’t treat one woman the same as another or even the same woman identically at different times,” Arigo said.

She said the team is trying impact people who are not coming through the door – those not on weight loss programs, for instance, or who think they’re too busy and overwhelmed to improve their physical activity.

Supplying support

“I want to learn what makes an active day different from a non-active day, and use the information about what makes an active day unique – to try to supply support on non-active days to turn them into active days,” Arigo said.

“What we see both in my experience and what literature shows us – a lot of women have a hard time being active. They juggle so much, and they put themselves second. That makes it even harder to take care of other people,” she said. “One of our goals from this project is to help them prioritize their own health.”

Dr. Mary Lou Kerwin, Psychology, and Dr. Andrea Lobo, Computer Science, are part of the team, which also includes students. Dr. Adarsh Gupta, Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, is a clinical collaborator.

“Ultimately our goal is to bring the women into the program and help them learn what derailed their physical activity in the past and how to develop the tools to maintain that activity,” Arigo said.

In addition to Kerwin and Lobo, members of Arigo’s mentoring team to provide her with extra training to become a leading expert in this field are professors in psychology, biobehavioral health and kinesiology from Penn State and Drexel universities and the University of Scranton, with whom she has worked on other research.

Looking for participants

The team conducted a preliminary feedback study on methodology with a handful of women and currently is recruiting 100 women to start the program in January. They will meet on the Rowan Glassboro campus or at the School of Osteopathic Medicine clinic in Washington Township. To qualify for the study, women must be between 40 and 60 years old, have a BMI of 27-50 and have one or more of the risk factors noted. They must have a smart phone and be willing to answer electronic questionnaires and have their activity monitored.

For more information on the study, contact arigo@rowan.edu.