Church-based health care interventions were associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure among African Americans, according to a study published Wednesday in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
How church-based interventions can be structured
For the study, the researchers from 2010 to 2014 assessed hypertension interventions offered at 32 New York City churches with predominantly African-American congregations. The researchers enrolled 373 African American men and women who self-reported uncontrolled blood pressure in the study. The participants had blood pressure levels of at least 140/90 mmHg or 130/80 mmHg if they had diabetes or chronic kidney disease. More than half of participants were clinically obese and one-third had diabetes.
The church-based interventions largely fell into two categories: 90-minute small group sessions with a lay health care worker and health education sessions with health experts.
The small group sessions included faith-based discussions, prayers, and scriptures related to health. During the sessions the lay health care worker encouraged participants to adopt a healthy diet and increase their physical activity for 11 weeks. The health care worker also taught participants how to incorporate exercise into their daily routines, manage stress, plan meals, and use a food diary. Participants also received three motivational phone calls.
At the other churches, participants participated in 11 health education sessions with health experts. The first session focused on lifestyle and hypertension management and the following 10 sessions focused on other health education topics.
Church-based interventions can work, study finds
After six months, the researchers found significant declines in systolic blood pressure among both groups. However, the researchers found slightly larger reductions among participants who met with health care workers in the small group setting. In particular, researchers found systolic pressure decreased by an average of 16.53 mmHg among participants who attended small group sessions with a health care worker, while systolic pressure decreased an average reduction of 10.74 mmHg among participants who received health education alone.
Gbenga Ogedegbe, a population health and medicine professor at NYU School of Medicine and one of the study's authors, said if sustained over four to five years, the observed reductions among small group participants could reduce heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke by at least 20%.
Further, according to Ogedegbe, the findings suggest that effective lifestyle interventions can be provided outside of the health care setting and in locations where they help people, "where there is no intimidation and where there is trust." He said the study shows "a program of lifestyle behavior modification that is usually delivered by the health care system can be delivered in the church setting"(Grayce West, Wall Street Journal, 10/9; Carroll, Reuters, 10/9).
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