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Antwi A. Akom, PhD

Associate Professor
San Francisco State University & Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2011-2012 ALR-New Connections
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio:
    Childhood Obesity
  • Project Name:
    Evaluating Youth-Driven Social Media and Technological Innovations to Increase Advocacy and Physical Activity Amongst African American and Latino Youth in Afterschool programs
  • Using a community-based participatory research approach, Dr. Antwi A. Akom’s New Connections project examines the use of youth-driven social media and technological innovations to increase advocacy and physical activity of African American and Latino children who participate in after-school programs across the state of California. Naturalistic observations and key informant interviews will be utilized along with bivariate statistical analysis and block randomization to explore Fun Research-based Education for Sustainable Health (FRESH)-- a community-based childhood obesity- and diabetes-wellness program developed by Dr. Akom in collaboration with CANFIT.
  • Professional Bio

    Dr. Antwi A. Akom is currently a Visiting Research Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology, Public Health, and Urban Education at San Francisco State University. Professor Akom’s research seeks to contribute to a growing body of knowledge that identifies innovative community-based approaches to creating positive health outcomes for youth of color from low-income communities. Professor Akom was recently awarded a research grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities RIMI program at SFSU that examines schools as centers of communities and the joint use of schools as places to improve individual and community health, clean energy, equity, sustainability, and reduce childhood obesity.  In 2011, Professor Akom received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate youth-driven social media and technological innovations to increase advocacy and physical activity amongst African American and Latino youth in afterschool programs. 

    Before joining the faculty at San Francisco State University, Professor Akom was a research associate at the University of California Berkeley’s, Institute for the Study of Social Change, as well as a research associate at the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Institute for Health Policy Studies.  His work can be found in the Teachers College Record, Sociology of Education, Equity and Excellence in Education, and Race and Ethnicity in Education.

    Project Description

    Researchers have identified schools as important settings in which to create environments and policies that promote healthy weight in children.  Yet more attention could be paid to the after school context, particularly in California where Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program Act (ASES), increased state funding for after-school programs from approximately $120 million to $550 million. This study will evaluate the impact of a regional, community-based after-school program which recognizes that young people are more likely to participate in healthy physical activity (PA) if ideas are easily understood and presented in a fun, desirable atmosphere. In particular, CANFIT’s FRESH project (Fun Research-based Education for Sustainable Health) utilizes aspects of Hip Hop culture such as spoken word/health literacy, social marketing, branding, and participatory media, to create youth advocates who address the root causes of childhood obesity by engaging in actions to change local policies and community environments. The 2-year study followed 487 children, half of whom were randomized to CANFIT’s FRESH Project and half to an academically focused after-school programs. Two data sets will be analyzed: The Youth Social Marketing Longitudinal Survey (YSMLS) and the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The YSMLS survey was conducted annual from 2008-2010 (N = 487). The study unit is adolescents between the ages of 13-18 from six afterschool programs who received the FRESH curricular interventions will be compared to groups that did not received doses of the FRESH health behavior interventions. Socio-demographic, personal, attitudinal, psychosocial, bio-medical, behavioral and environmental measures collected from the YSMLS will be analyzed using basic descriptive and bivariate statistical analysis multivariate models, and Block Randomization. 

    The conceptual framework the FRESH Project is built upon uses a multi-level ecological model as an integrative framework to create curricular interventions in PA, nutrition, and health-based communication. The project also draws on social marketing and behavioral change theories and theories of planned learning behavior.

    Why I Applied to New Connections

    Growing up in a single parent female-headed household brought home the extent to which African American families are burdened with chronic illnesses and inform my decision to apply for a RWJF New Connections research award. More specifically, I applied to the New Connections program because it is specifically designed for researchers from under-represented communities and provided a unique opportunity for a researcher like myself with a Ph.D. in sociology to advance my involvement in health policy research.

    What New Connections Means for my Career

    As a newly tenured associate professor at San Francisco State University, it is important for my professional development and career growth to secure external funding. I have a nine-month appointment with significant teaching responsibilities. Securing a New Connections award allowed me to buy out teaching in order to spend adequate time developing my research skills and agenda. The New Connections award has also enabled me to broaden my professional support network and is critical in terms of increasing my chances of becoming a successful, independent researcher.

    Research Interests

    My research interests span three core areas: The first examines the role of local knowledge in the production and amelioration of environmental health and educational inequities, specifically with school and after-school programs. The second explores the ways in which youth-driven social media and technological innovations can be integrated into educational systems, community based organizations, and energy policy, in order to promote positive youth development (PYD), increase physical activity (PA), and create individual and community change. The third focuses on the role of racio-ethnicity and social identity in creating positive health outcomes in schools and communities and the development and evaluation of community-based obesity and diabetes intervention programs for African-American and Latino children and youth using Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) and CBPR processes.


    Environmental Sociology, Public Health, STEM Education

    Populations Served

    Low-income African American and Latino youth ages 13-18 from six communities across the state of California.

    Honors and Awards

    National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities: RIMI Investigator Award in Health Disparities, 2010-2011

    San Francisco State University, Faculty Scholarly Excellence Award, 2008-2009

    San Francisco State University, Outstanding Public Service Award, 2008-2009

    San Francisco State University, Distinguished Teaching Award, 2006-2007

    American Educational Research Association (AERA) Dissertation Award, 2003

    Other Personal Links

    Speaker's page