For black Americans striving for lower blood pressure, churches may provide the answer to their prayers.
“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 study lead author Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe.
The study was conducted at 32 New York City churches. It included 373 black participants with uncontrolled high blood pressure who were randomly assigned to a weekly lifestyle intervention group or to a “control” group.
The intervention group attended 11 90-minute group sessions led by lay health advisors. The focus was on healthy lifestyle habits. There were also motivational sessions, individual counseling sessions, and prayer, scripture and faith-based discussions related to health.
Participants in the control group received one lifestyle session on high blood pressure management and 10 weekly health education sessions led by health experts.
After six months, the intervention group had an average 5.8 mm Hg reduction in systolic (top number) blood pressure, compared to the control group. After nine months, the intervention group still had better blood pressure control, but the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.
“Vulnerable populations often have lower access to primary care,” said Ogedegbe, a professor of population health and medicine at NYU School of Medicine.
“We hope clergy and church leaders will take note of our findings and replicate these interventions in their churches,” Ogedegbe said in a university news release.
Churches in black communities are already known to promote health. Some faith-based programs have increased cancer screening, lowered weight and promoted better nutrition, the study authors said in background notes.
The study was published online Oct. 9 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to lowering high blood pressure.