Churches Taking Lead in Promoting Healthy Hearts Initiative
Special to the Outlook
Churches are needed for a new initiative to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, including heart disease and strokes. A $1.4 million federal grant is helping a Florida State University-led research team to partner with churches in Gadsden and Leon counties to combat this disease which is one of the leading causes of death for men and women. Churches interested in working on improving health in their congregations are encouraged to get involved.
Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the three-year grant has established the Health for Hearts United Leadership Institute (Healthy Hearts Project), a collaborative effort designed to take advantage of the strong support structures in churches to integrate proven health intervention strategies into church environments and the daily lives of their members.
“Cardiovascular disease is a major health issue for all Americans, especially African-Americans,” said Professor Penny Ralston, the Healthy Hearts Project principal investigator and Director of FSU’s Center on Better Health and Life for Underserved Populations. “The strong churches we have in our area represent the perfect opportunity to engage faith communities and promote healthier lifestyles through a supportive and comfortable environment.”
Through the HHU Lead Project, the research team and six host churches are working directly with 32 other churches in Gadsden and Leon counties to engage church members in healthy lifestyle practices such as eating healthy foods especially fruits and vegetables, participating in physical activity on a regular basis, reducing stress, and taking charge of their health. The six host churches are Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and St. James AME Church in Quincy, FL; New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church and Old Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Havana, FL; and Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and Greater Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, FL.
Greater Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church has already hosted five churches for Healthy Hearts trainings and these churches have completed all requirements for the program, including developing health ministries and implementing a cardiovascular awareness event. These churches include: from Tallahassee, Higher Calling Christian Fellowship, Kingdom Word Ministries, Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church, and Union Branch Missionary Baptist Church, and from Quincy, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church.
Other collaborators on the project at Florida State University include Jasminka Ilich-Ernst and Iris Young-Clark. Other partners on the grant include Arrie M. Battle, Mother Care Network, Inc.; Kandauda (K.A.S.) Wickrama, University of Georgia; Cynthia M. Harris, Florida A&M University; Catherine Coccia, Florida International University; and Jennifer L. Lemacks, University of Southern Mississippi.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for African-American men and women. National data show that African Americans have higher illness rates and higher death rates than their Caucasian counterparts for both heart disease and stroke. The state of Florida, especially North Florida, is included in what is known as the “stroke belt” because of its higher-than-average incidence of stroke among African-American residents.
“We know that healthy lifestyle changes are an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but making those changes are difficult for all of us,” said Ralston. “Our churches, through the Healthy Hearts Project, will provide the knowledge, support and encouragement for members to make lasting improvements in their lives.”
Church leaders interested in participating in the Healthy Hearts Project (NIH Award Number 2R24MD2807-06) should contact Penny Ralston (850) 645-8110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.