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(CNN) — To promote heart health awareness where it is needed most, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a creative idea. They assigned 15 African-American participants from the rural, low-income community of Lenoir County, North Carolina, to take pictures of what “cardiovascular health” means to them and their community.

North Carolina is part of the “stroke belt,” a region that runs through the southeastern United States where cardiovascular disease is a much greater risk. African-Americans are more susceptible to the risks because of ecological disparity factors such as “racial residential segregation, socioeconomic inequalities, and unequal concentrations of poverty and wealth,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to bring and connect the community together, raise more questions, and galvanize the community,” said Alexandra Lightfoot, one of the study’s researchers at the University of North Carolina. The images were shot on disposable cameras in 2011 and 2012.

Sarah Kowitt, lead author of the study, is a firm believer in the power of “photovoice,” a hands-on research technique that aims to harness awareness in a single picture. The images that were taken for this project focused on cardiovascular disease but illuminated other health determinants. “The adults really emphasized stress within their community,” said Kowitt.

Teens were also selected to take photos. “The neat thing about this study is it involves adolescents. It is important to include this age group in future studies, to learn and create health interventions … specifically for chronic disease; it’s an important time period,” she added.

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