Effective Recruitment Strategies Utilized to Examine Dietary Practices of Blacks in New York City in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cicely K. Johnson, May May Leung, Grace X. Ma, Olorunseun O. Ogunwobi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Black Americans have long been considered a hard-to-reach population for research studies, whether quantitative surveys or for clinical research. Studies have explored multiple rationales for why Blacks are hard to reach, and the explanations have included historical mistrust, the need to assess the benefits from participating in research, and the expense of spending time participating in research, among others. What has not been explored is the continuous merging of all individuals who identify as Black, particularly when exploring reasonings for a lower interest in participating in research. This paper addresses this issue by investigating the participation rate of individuals identifying as Black in New York City in a study exploring dietary practices as a predictor of colorectal cancer screening behavior. Participants were asked to self-report screening behavior, intent to screen, and dietary and other lifestyle practices. In this analysis, we discuss the unique experience encountered in recruiting Black American participants to participate in this study, particularly amid a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. Methods: The methodology for this study included a systematic review of the literature, a two-part recruitment process, and data analysis. The first part of the recruitment process involved registering individuals who were interested in participating in the study and consented to be contacted and reminded to come to the location where they were recruited on a scheduled date to complete the actual survey. With this part of the recruitment process, we engaged with n = 488 Black men and women between November 2019 and February 2020. The second part of the recruitment process utilized availability sampling outside of NYC subway stations and other high traffic areas as well as large community events. We engaged with n = 319 individuals. Total engagement with n = 807 individuals yielded a sample size for the survey of 504 completed surveys. Results: Of the total engaged (n = 807), 14% declined to participate due to a lack of time, 11% chose not to participate in the study because the incentive was not enough to compensate for their time 0.02% declined due to not trusting institutions conducting research, and 0.03% did not feel comfortable understanding the questions due to a language barrier. We had a sample size of (n = 504) of the total 807 individuals engaged. Conclusions: Recruiting Black Americans into our colorectal cancer study did not prove to be challenging with the two-tiered model of recruitment that involved consistent engagement and having the primary researcher lead this recruitment process. Extracting within race differences is critical in demystifying the conclusion of numerous studies that African Americans specifically are hesitant to participate due to historical mistrust related to tragedies such as the Tuskegee Experiment and numerous other occurrences of African Americans being treated as guinea pigs for the advancement of research. This data contributes knowledge to this field regarding understanding recruitment challenges in the Black population, but further work needs to be conducted. Mistrust in this study primarily came from the individuals engaged in Caribbean neighborhoods, where many expressed more comfort with home remedies and bush doctors when asked about colorectal cancer screening and declined to participate. Innovative communication, qualitative research, and recruitment strategies tailored to the Caribbean population are needed in future studies to address this recruitment challenge that we experienced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-772
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • New York City
  • COVID-19
  • Animals
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Pandemics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Female
  • Colorectal Neoplasms
  • Black People


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