Health Initiative Taps Into the Power of Black Churches to Help With Hypertension

If the body is indeed a temple, it stands to reason that the scourge of hypertension in the black community would meet its match in church.

The Faith-based Approaches in the Treatment of Hypertension (FAITH) studytook this to heart, randomly assigning 32 black churches in New York to one of two community-based healthy lifestyle interventions.

After 6 months, systolic blood pressure (BP) dropped by an average of 16.5 mm Hg with a layperson-led intervention that targeted hypertension with science and elements of scripture, and by 10.7 mm Hg with a general health-education intervention led by outside health experts.

Although the declines were significant in both groups, the 5.8 mm Hg between-group difference favored the layperson-led initiative (P = .029).

Both groups experienced significant declines in diastolic BP and mean arterial pressure at 6 months, but the difference was not statistically significant between groups, researchers report in the October issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes .

“What most people don’t appreciate enough is the power of the church,” senior author Gbenga Ogedegbe, MD, NYU School of Medicine, New York City, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology. “Actually, for many people, it’s part of their lifestyle; it’s part of what they do. So the role of the church in this regard is that you’re getting health messages from a very trusted space. That is the key thing here.”

Black people tend to have poorer access to care than white people, he said, and, perhaps more important, there is a certain level of mistrust of the medical establishment.

Faith-placed or Faith-based?

Studies in which the church is used to recruit participants but the actual engagement of the church is removed from the study are “faith-placed,” said Ogedegbe. “Ours is faith-based because we are actually having people in the church lead the programs, and these are members of the church.”

The targeted intervention consisted of 11 weekly group sessions covering proven lifestyle recommendations, such as the DASH diet, stress management, and medication adherence. In addition, a visit to a local grocery store or bodega helped participants better appreciate food labeling and choose foods more wisely.

The 90-minute sessions started with a prayer and weigh-in, and were led by lay church members who were trained on the curriculum but also used a manual containing prayer, scripture, and faith-based discussion points, such as 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, which describes the body as a temple. The group sessions were followed by three monthly individual interview sessions to help with motivation and problem-solving.

The second intervention consisted of one hypertension management session covering recommended lifestyle changes and drug management, followed by 10 informational sessions on other unrelated general health topics. Participants also received a National Institutes of Health booklet on lowering BP.

Of the 373 participants 76% were women, one-third had diabetes, 86% were insured, and 34% had an annual household income below $20,000. Mean age was 63.7 years and mean baseline BP 153/87 mm Hg.

Of the 32 churches, membership was predominantly African American at 18, Caribbean at 10, and African at 4.

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Source: Medscape