W.K. Kellogg Foundation awards Jackson State University $390K grant to encourage more African American breastfeeding

(JACKSON, Miss.) — The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has awarded JSU a $390,000 grant to increase breastfeeding among African American women, who lag behind others despite evidence that breast milk shields newborns from infections in the first year of life.

Dr. Mohammad Shahbazi, a professor in the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health and former interim dean of Jackson State University’s School of Public Health, said the grant will support a consortium of HBCUs and community groups to address and reverse the dismal trend.

Shahbazi said, “I’m so grateful for the opportunity afforded to us by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to work on this project. Our expected outcome is that 70 percent of African American mothers who will participate in JSU Consortium endeavor will breastfeed their children for at least six months.”

With even greater optimism, Shahbazi predicts that 90 percent of participating students, community members, and public and allied health professionals will learn about the nutritional importance of “exclusive breastfeeding.”

He said Mississippi’s only School of Public Health has the infrastructure and capacity to execute this project. Two years ago, he attended a symposium in Atlanta, Georgia, on breastfeeding – also referred to as “first food.” He was joined at the conference by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher.

Symposium organizer Dr. Kimarie Bugg, CEO of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), asked Shahbazi if JSU could assist in reversing the trend. At the time, Shahbazi suggested that JSU could possibly establish a comprehensive center at JSU that would promote and sustain maternal child health nutrition throughout Mississippi. Satcher and Bugg agreed that it would be a great idea.

The WKKF grant will help JSU establish a consortium of HBCUs, and support will include the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and community groups with a focus on improving prenatal education for women who deliver at Merit Health Central in Jackson.

The three-year grant, through April 2023, will focus on three goals:

  • Year 1: JSU will reach out to consortium members, including ROSE, to plan ways to work together to develop breastfeeding knowledge among public and allied health degree-seeking students. With their input, JSU will design a program curriculum to ensure that “first food” is a priority in training future health professionals.
  • Year 2: JSU will cultivate breastfeeding knowledge by introducing evidence-based, “first food” researched materials into the curricula of existing programs.
  • Year 3: JSU will disseminate and evaluate the impact of breastfeeding knowledge in the curricula. To sustain these activities, JSU will explore avenues to found and support a Center of Excellence on Black Breastfeeding and Early Care and Nutrition within JSU’s Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health.

Shahbazi added that “the ultimate goal is to develop sustainable solutions for low breastfeeding rates nationwide and in the southern region.” He noted that disparities persist by “race/ethnicity, socioeconomic characteristics and geography.” In fact, he said, “Breastfeeding rates for black infants were 50 percent lower than those for white infants at birth.”

Overall, Shahbazi said JSU’s geographic location in the middle of the state and its status as the only accredited School of Public Health in Mississippi will help turn the tide and allow the state to nurture healthier babies.

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