Faith-based leaders and church wellness teams can be mobilized to assess health needs and implement chronic disease prevention initiatives in rural areas. The findings, presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting (Oct. 29-Nov. 2; Denver, CO) by Georgia’s Tanner Health System in partnership with the Georgia Health Policy Center, suggest that evidence-based programs, offered in churches and led by church representatives, can target the health needs of African American populations living in rural areas.
As part of the Get Healthy, Live Well community health collaborative, led by Tanner Health System, members of seven African American churches in a three-county, West Georgia region were surveyed. The purpose was to better understand personal, organizational, and community barriers to achieving good health, as well as opportunities for action. Churches fell into two categories: 75 or fewer active members (four churches) to 150 and more active members (four churches) with most serving low-income congregants.
Identifying Health Needs and Implementing Programs for Action
Based on more than 120 responses, the faith community identified health needs of congregants in the areas of disease management (diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol); mental health (stress management and understanding mental health conditions); and healthy lifestyles and behaviors education (nutrition, exercise, portion size/eating healthy, weight control, childhood obesity).
Identification of these needs led to the development of interactive health in faith policy trainings, implementation of evidence-based programs led by faith leaders, and community events targeting African American congregations to promote use of chronic disease prevention and management services in the region.
Specific interventions that were implemented included training of church facilitators to lead chronic disease reduction programs, tobacco-free policies and signage, congregational health challenges (walking, drinking water, fruit and vegetable consumption), health symposia designed to address the cultural-specific health needs of the local African American community, and installation of community gardens on church grounds with financial support for upkeep to improve and sustain access to healthy food within the congregations.
“Mobilizing faith-based leaders and church wellness teams to assess and plan for implementation of health promotion and chronic disease prevention initiatives has led effectively to awareness of the health and health services needs of the African American population in west Georgia,” says Amy Riedesel, director of community health at Tanner Health System.
Four churches implemented chronic disease self-management programs and one church implemented the diabetes self-management program. Congregants completing these programs reported increased knowledge, increased participation in health promoting behaviors and preventive activities, and feeling better.
The study, “Rural Health System and Local Churches Collaborate to Address Chronic Disease in African Americans” was presented by Amy Riedesel, from Tanner Health System and co-authored by Debra Kibbe from the Georgia Health Policy Center.
More About Get Healthy, Live Well
The Get Healthy, Live Well initiative is a comprehensive, community health collaborative led by Tanner Health System to educate residents and promote conditions for healthier lifestyles in west Georgia. Specifically, the collaborative is working in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties to decrease health disparities, reduce obesity rates, eliminate tobacco use, increase physical activity, and improve nutrition. The initiative is funded by a Partnerships to Improve Community Health Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Georgia Health Policy Center is an evaluation partner for the grant.