Health disparities are prevalent in Black and brown communities due to the forces of economic inequities and medical bias. Google is lending its hand to provide medical solutions for these communities by supporting six researchers with $300,000 in Fitbit devices and services to spearhead their research for underrepresented communities as a part of their Fitbit Health Equity Research Initiative.

Fitbit devices are revolutionizing the digital health field by pooling information that can fill in the gaps for medical research. The devices can address the concerns of medical issues plaguing Black and Brown communities such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and mental health. Fitbits have been used in over 900 health studies attesting to their ever-growing value in the medical field, according to Amy McDonough, a Health Solution expert for Fitbit at Google.

We spoke with Google’s recipients Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi and Sherilyn Francis to learn about how the devices will advance their medical research in maternal health.

Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi

As a soon-to-be mother in 2017, Dr. Ajayi’s experience in the medical field was unpleasant due to the blatant racism.

Her pregnancy further fueled her interest to center her research on maternal-fetal disparities from Black and Hispanic populations. Her current research centers on maternal-fetal disparities targeting Black and brown populations who statistically are the most disadvantaged demographic.

To further her research efforts, PowerMom was launched in 2019 to serve as a platform that would address health disparities found in Black and Hispanic communities. The palliative care physician credits the platform for creating an interactive space to bridge the gap between clinical research and community building.

“A large part of health discrepancies for pregnant people is not included in research in general. Add the demographic of people with color and the statistics will increase significantly,” Dr. Ajayi said. “So, PowerMom is an avenue to meet participants where they are, build community and share information with them.”

Dr. Ajayi will be able to provide vital information to the women through Google’s initiative, which provided her with 500 Fitbits and Scales to advance her studies. The digital health tool will track activity, weight gain and stress levels.

Sherilyn Francis

Advancing health equities has always been top of mind for Ph.D. student Sherilyn Francis. Her current research studies at Georgia Tech’s Human-Centered Computing program advances her interest to find a solution to create better outcomes for Black women’s maternal journey.

“I recognize I am a member of a marginalized group in the United States and independent of my education and income, once I am in the healthcare space my credentials do not follow me,” Francis said. “My outcome in these spaces are consistent with other members of those marginalized groups. So, this is the driving force of everything I do to find possible solutions.”

Despite the numerous studies surrounding the pregnancy period, Francis recognizes the postpartum period is oftentimes left out of research agendas. In conjunction with the Preventing Maternal Mortality (PM3) application and Google’s resources, the researchers hope to change the narrative and bring light to an underserved sector in women’s health. Francis hopes the study will aid in newfound revelations to help women not only recover from childbirth but thrive throughout the postpartum period.

Currently, Francis is working on an ongoing research project to decipher how technology can address the needs of Black women in rural areas during their postpartum period. Google has advanced its studies by providing 215 FitBits and Fitbit Aria Air Smart Scales. Through a clinical trial and mixed methods of evaluation, 195 women across 159 counties in Georgia will receive the digital health tools, which will be connected to the PM3 application.