This post was written by Bronx Health REACH staff member Immaculada Moronta.
I witnessed firsthand the impact and power of the churches in tackling hypertension! Coordinating Bronx Health REACH’s Faith Based Outreach Initiative for several years now focusing on promoting healthy eating, physical activity opportunities and educating the community about healthy eating, our partner churches through the years have never disappointed. Their work on the Faith Based Hypertension Program was no exception.
The Institute for Family Health/Bronx Health REACH’s (BHR) Faith Based Hypertension Initiative (FBHI), was funded in 2018 by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as part of their Take the Pressure Off, NYC!- an initiative focused on preventing and controlling high blood pressure. The FBHI was modeled, with some modification, on the Fine, Fit and Fabulous (FFF) program BHR developed and led several years ago. Fine Fit and Fabulous was a 12 week diabetes prevention program emphasizing nutrition, faith as a motivator, group discussions and program buddy support system.
The FBHI was a 7 week session focused on treatment adherence and nutrition education based on the DASH (Dietary Approach to STOP Hypertension) Eating Plan for managing and lowering high blood pressure among African American and Latinos in the Bronx. BHR partnered with five churches with each responsible for recruiting Peer Educators (PEs) to be trained to run the program at their respective church with 10-15 participants currently prescribed high blood pressure medication.
Two partner churches continue to build on the FBHI. They are Cosmopolitan Church of the Lord Jesus and Friendly Baptist Church. Deacon Dorothy Faison, a PE with Cosmopolitan Church of the Lord Jesus, explained her recruitment process included making announcements during Sunday morning service. She was surprised at how many congregants replied to her; members that she had known for years, but was unaware that they had hypertension. “This program started the dialogue. As a church it is part of our culture to know the members on a very personal level. We care for the people that we serve and it is embedded in our faith. When you care about family, you care about their well-being which includes their health. I had never before led a program like this. It offered me the opportunity to build a different rapport with the congregation, a different sense of responsibility and leadership that I was not used to regardless of my role in the congregation. I learned during the training different ways to relate to the members of the congregation.”
She explained that she now leads a follow up session every 6-7 weeks. “We have a buddy system, where we have designated members as partners to follow up with each other. We didn’t want the program to end. Members were interested in what they learned and wished we had a second version to build on the first one.”
The PE with Friendly Baptist Church, Royal Eason, a retired veteran, explained, “This is the first time I completed a training like this. It was a great experience! I did not know that I had this ability. Now that the program is done, a lot of them [participants] want to continue the program. They still want us to have the session at bible study after it was done. I still try to talk to them about what they have learned and make sure they are still applying what they took from the program.”
67 participants completed the program proving that faith based organizations are fully capable of reaching and effectively lead health focused program in underserved communities with approximately . 10-15 participants per church. The impact of the initiative included the following: increase participants’ blood pressure monitoring, weight loss, taking their medication daily, improved eating habits and a decrease in sodium intake.
Though for many of the PEs this was the first time they had completed this type of training; with no hesitation they took the challenge head on. They engaged and followed up with their community. The FBOI proving once again that they can be key in health promotion in underserved communities.