Research Finds That Black People Supported by Church Communities Have Lower Blood Pressure

Amanda Hoyte-Badu was unsure how she would be perceived by a group of people a lot older than her. In her role as a lay health adviser, she was leading a session of mostly over-60-years-olds at Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York.

“It turned out to be totally fine,” said Hoyte-Badu, who was 24 when she participated in the program. “They just appreciated having someone really listen to them and be understanding and nonjudgmental.”

Her leadership role was part of a new study of faith-based approaches in the treatment of hypertension in the black community; the results were published Tuesday in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes Journal.

The researchers found that people who received therapeutic lifestyle advice and motivational interviewing sessions in a church environment had a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure levels than those who received only health education in churches.

“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,” said Dr. Olugbenga Ogedegbe, an author of the study and professor and director in the Division of Heath and Behavior in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Blood pressure is measured in two parts: systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the pressure when your heart is beating, and diastolic is the pressure when it’s resting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (noted as mmHg), with the first number systolic and the second diastolic. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.

The American Heart Association says nearly half of all non-Hispanic black adults in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease. According to the American College of Cardiology’s Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults, 45.6% of American adults have hypertension.

For the new study, researchers split 373 people from 32 New York City churches into two groups. One, called the MINT-TLC group, attended 11 90-minute weekly group sessions focused on making healthy lifestyle changes. The sessions were run by members of the church acting as lay health advisers. These were followed up with three monthly phone calls updating one of the group leaders from the weekly sessions about their progress.

The other group received one lifestyle session focused on high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and 10 sessions given by health experts on another topic such as Alzheimer’s disease or fire safety. Members of this group did not receive motivational calls.

Both groups had their blood pressure measured at the start of the program, six months after it began and nine months from the start.

The MINT-TLC group had a systolic blood pressure reduction of 16.53 mmHg after six months; members of the health education group had a systolic blood pressure reduction of 10.74. This culminated in a net reduction of 5.8 mmHg. The MINT-TLC drop had shrunk to 5.3 by nine months, but this was still clinically significant, according to Ogedegbe, who is also director of NYU Langone’s Center for Healthful Behavior Change.

Hoyte-Badu’s church was one of the first to become involved in the project.