theGrio's 100: Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston and Dr. Gayle K. Porter, promoting health among midlife women

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Who are Drs. Marilyn Hughes Gaston and Dr. Gayle K. Porter?

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston, 73, is a pediatrician by training who has dedicated her professional career to improving the health of poor children and their families. She was the second African-American woman to achieve the rank of assistant surgeon general and rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. As the director of a public health service bureau, she managed a $5 million budget, and improved access to quality health care to over 12 million underserved minority patients in the United States.

Dr. Gayle K. Porter, 67, is a clinical psychologist and the first African-American female psychologist on the psychiatry faculty of Johns Hopkins. She is an internationally known expert and lecturer in mental health, especially regarding minority children, women and families. Among many achievements, Porter helped create what became a nationally known school-based mental health program for Johns Hopkins University – a program that helped reduce violence among the targeted group of youth.

They have both received numerous honors and accolades for their work. In fact, two cities have named a “Marilyn Hughes Day” on their observance calendar — Cincinnati and Lincoln Heights, Ohio.

Together, they have pooled their expertise and formed The Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center, with their most recent focus on black women’s emotional and physical health.

Why are they on theGrio’s 100?

Gaston and Porter’s interest in this particular group of women led to their best-selling holistic book, Prime Time: The African-American Woman’s Complete Guide to Midlife Health and Wellness. It encouraged women to make lifestyle changes to improve their health by starting or joining support groups.

After much interest in the concept of using support groups to foster health improvement, the Prime Time Sister Circles® were born. The two secured grant funding and developed a science-based curriculum to improve the lifestyles of black women ages 40 and 75 years of age. The groups focus on stress management, fitness, nutrition and taking charge of one’s health. Its members meet for two hours over 12 weeks around their communities.

Gaston and Porter live by example, taking their own health seriously and following the tenets of the PTSC as well. A breast cancer survivor, Gaston also advises women on breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The Prime Time Sister Circles® have now helped over 2,000 women in 16 cities. In addition, the Gaston and Porter National Training Institute has trained over 100 women to continue facilitating the PTSC programs as health educators.

Among the women involved in PTSC, there has been a documented reduction in obesity and overall weight, decrease in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and improvements in stress and physical activity.

What’s next for Drs. Gaston and Porter?

Currently based both in the Washington, D.C. area and Poinciana, Fla., the duo plans to expand the PTSC to black women nationally and internationally, as well as to younger black women. In response to requests from women of various racial and ethnic groups, they will be piloting a new curriculum for women of all groups, called Prime Time Woman Circles®.