- African Americans who believe their church has a role in promoting healthy living are also more willing to attend church-based health programs.
- Congregants surveyed expressed a preference for receiving health information through interactive workshops and health fairs led by health ministry programs over sermons.
“We were surprised at the overwhelming majority of study participants who felt specifically that the church has a responsibility for health promotion—that’s a strong statement,” said lead study author Adebowale A. Odulana, M.D., an internist and pediatrician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Many of us who’ve grown up in the church understand its historical context, and know that churches function beyond spiritual guidance and social support,” he said.
Odulana acknowledged that many churches conduct health missions on their own via health ministry, without the presence of an institution or researchers as partners. Health ministry was defined as “the group within the church that focuses on the promotion of health and healing as part of the mission and ministry of the larger faith group and the wider community.”
The researchers surveyed more than 1,200 members of 11 African American churches in North Carolina about their church attendance, diet, physical activity, beliefs regarding the church’s role in health promotion and interest in Bible-based health living. Of the 1,204 congregants who responded to the survey, 72 percent were female, 57 percent were 50 years or older, 84 percent had a high school education or more, and 77 percent had a chronic health condition. The majority of people surveyed said they were more interested in learning about healthy living through interactive workshops led by health ministry programs than from sermons.
“I have often been critical of health promotion efforts which seek to reach the black community through churches because while churches are important part of black culture, public health researchers often overestimate the role of the pastor as the mechanism for crafting and presenting health information,” said Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study by Odulana and colleagues makes a valuable contribution because it shows that church members view the health ministry as the more desirable source of health information, LaVeist added.
“Presumably health ministry members are more knowledgeable than most pastors when it comes to health messages. I imagine this would vary from one church to the next. However, if appropriate technical support can be developed for church health ministries, this could be a valuable new resource for reaching African Americans with accurate and authoritative health information,” said LaVeist.
Calling the findings a “potentially powerful motivator,” the study authors suggest that a stronger partnership between church leadership and health researchers could potentially reduce the impact of health disparities for African Americans.
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Health Promotion Practice, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes authoritative, peer-reviewed articles devoted to the practical application of health promotion and education. For more information, contact Laura Drouillard at (202) 408-9804 or LDrouillard@sophe.org.
Health Promotion Practice, March 14, 2013, DOI: 10.1177/1524839913480799.©2013 Society for Public Health Education