Harlem Word: Marcia Sells talks about the Black Women’s Health Study

Marcia Sells, BA, JD, Associate Vice President in the Office of Government and Community Affairs, Associate Dean of Communications at the School of the Arts, both in Columbia University, has been taking part in the Black Women’s Health Study for almost 20 years. She tells us about this fascinating and important study.

Q: What is the Black Women’s Health Study?

A: The study is based in Boston, but the 59,000 women who take part live all over the United States. I think maybe my ob/gyn told me about it. At first, I got a lot of information from the researchers in the mail. I was asked to answer questions about my age and weight and other health-related subjects. I think I even gave a mouth swab for DNA. This is something I continue to do. I continue to answer the questions as I get older and my life changes.

Q: Does the Black Women’s Health Study focus on any particular disease or condition

A: There was not a lot of information about black women’s health in the 1990’s when the study began. The aim is to learn about causes of the health problems black women experience. It is also to learn what black women do to stay healthy. This kind of information can only be learned in studies that take place over a long period of time. After collecting information for many years, the researchers began sending out reports. The reports say, “this number of women have diabetes and obesity” or “so many women in this age group have this disease” or “more women in this age group, in this economic range suffer from this disease.” That’s why it is important that the study continues over a long time. The hope is that having all this information could lead to better health for black women.

Q: Were you worried about ‘giving away’ your information?

A: Some people do worry about what happens to their personal information, but in any research study you have to be willing to share that. I just thought it would be so valuable for my information to be compared with that of other women. I also thought it was very important that black women from all backgrounds participate. If I could add to this knowledge, I wanted to do it.


For more Marcia Sells articles, see the links on the right side under "Related Stuff"


Please note: The Black Women’s Health Study stopped signing up new members in 1995. By tracking black women’s health over a long period of time the study hopes to get a truer description of their health. For more information about this valuable study, or to learn results from some of the research go to:

For another website with reliable information focused on black women’s health:



Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

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