A new study reveals just how influential churches can be in reducing high blood pressure in the black community.
The study was published in the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes journal, and evaluates the effectiveness of church-led programs that teach African-Americans how to reduce their high blood pressure and live healthier lifestyles.
"African Americans have a significantly greater burden of hypertension and heart disease, and our findings prove that people with uncontrolled hypertension can, indeed, better manage their blood pressure through programs administered in places of worship." said Gbenga Ogedegbe, MD, MPH, professor of Population Health and Medicine at NYU School of Medicine and the study's lead author.
The study also looked at what kind of programs work best.
Ogedegbe's team found that people who received therapeutic lifestyle advice and motivational counseling sessions in a church environment saw a greater reduction in high blood pressure than those who only received health education in church.
The New York-based researchers collected data from 373 participants between the years 2010 and 2014. All of participants were from 32 New York City churches who identified as black and had a self-reported diagnosis of hypertension and uncontrolled blood pressure.
The scientists then split the participants into two groups, an intervention group and a control group.
Participants in the intervention group received eleven 90-minute weekly group sessions that focused on healthy lifestyle behaviors. They also received three motivational interviewing sessions delivered monthly by community health workers. The curriculum was uniquely tailored to church members by including prayer, scripture, and faith-based discussion related to health.
Participants in the control group received only one lifestyle session on hypertension management plus 10 informational sessions on health education topics that were led weekly by health experts.
"What we found was that for the group that had the intervention, there was a significantly lower blood pressure reduction in them than the other group. In other words, that group had a reduction in blood pressure by almost 6 points compared to the control group," Ogedegbe told CNN.
African-American and Hispanic-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure than White Americans. Ogedegbe hopes her findings highlight the importance of church in improving the overall health of parishioners.
"Vulnerable populations often have lower access to primary care. We need to reduce racial disparities in hypertension-related outcomes between blacks and whites. Additionally, we hope clergy and church leaders will take note of our findings and replicate these interventions in their churches," she said.