Faith-based health education lowers systolic BP in black patients

A report published this week in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found a faith-based program in traditionally black churches was able to lower systolic blood pressure among attendants by an average 5.8 mm Hg—a result that more typical public education programs failed to replicate.

The FAITH (Faith-based Approaches in the Treatment of Hypertension) study, led by NYU Langone Medical Center’s Gbenga Ogedegbe, MD, MPH, implemented either an intensive intervention program or routine health education lessons at 32 black churches across New York City. The trial included 373 adults, mostly in their sixties and women.

Attendants of churches randomized to the intensive intervention agreed to 11 weekly sessions at 90 minutes each, focusing on aspects of weight loss, diet, exercise, stress reduction and medication adherence. Curriculum was faith-heavy and involved prayers, scripture and religious discussions related to healthcare. Participants in the program also received three follow-up phone calls after the intervention to ensure they were sticking to their lifestyle changes.

The plan was simpler for churches that weren’t part of the intervention; those organizations brought in local experts to discuss lifestyle changes and health education for a total of 11 sessions.

After the intensive phase of the program, Ogedegbe et al. said participants in the faith-based intervention group saw a 5.8 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure compared to the health education group. That figure was 5.2 mm Hg at nine months, suggesting patients adhered relatively well to the healthier lifestyle promoted by their church. There was no difference in diastolic BP values.

“Although the blood pressure reduction at nine months did not reach statistical significance, its clinical implications remain very important given that most trials of high blood pressure treatments have a similar magnitude of effect,” Ogedegbe said in a release. “We do think that a stronger support component in the six-to-nine-month period may have led to even greater blood pressure reduction.”

He said his team’s study is limited in that it can’t differentiate whether BP reductions were the result of sustained lifestyle interventions or alterations in medication, but it’s clear trusted community institutions can have a big impact on their residents’ health. The sentiment was apparent in last year’s barbershop trial, which found black men gained better control of their blood pressure when medical checkups and interventions were available to them via a pharmacist at their local barbershop.

“Participants were encouraged to speak with their physicians about their medications and any problems they were experiencing,” Ogedegbe said. “Future research should test an intervention that links the community and clinics as partners in delivering the intervention.”