The church plays a significant role in the African-American community, and has been used before to promote health information on cancer screening, vaccinations, HIV awareness and weight reduction. And now, according to Everyday Health, research shows the church can also help African-American parishioners manage hypertension, a condition that affects 40 percent of the minority population in the United States. In a study published in October in the Journal of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a team including Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe, a professor in the department of medicine at New York University, found that lifestyle interventions administered in churches by lay health advisers significantly reduced blood pressure among African-Americans compared with health education alone. “African-Americans have a significantly greater burden of hypertension and heart disease, and our findings prove that people with uncontrolled hypertension can, indeed, better manage their blood pressure through programs administered in places of worship,” Dr. Ogedegbe said in a press release. Researchers enrolled 373 men and women from 32 New York City churches who identified as Black and had a self-reported diagnosis of hypertension with uncontrolled blood pressure. Half the group received 11 weekly 90-minute group sessions focused on healthy lifestyle behaviors and three monthly motivational interviewing sessions from community-based or lay health advisers. Each weekly session targeted a particular healthy behavior and incorporated a passage from the Bible and prayer into faith-based discussions. “It was something they could relate to, it was in sync with their values, so they received it well,” Ogedegbe said. The participants were also given three one-on-one counseling sessions over the phone after the 12-week group meetings ended. The same lay health workers talked to them about the issues they faced in changing lifestyle habits, and helped them understand how their behavior affects their health. Ogedegbe pointed out that African-Americans had a higher likelihood of dying from stroke, cardiac arrest, and kidney failure — hypertension is a leading cause for all three diseases. He found that programs that help people exercise more and reduce weight show results, but blacks don’t often come in for help until they have really high blood pressure. “Most low-income minorities have a lot of competing priorities, and can’t come into the clinic every week for 12 weeks to improve their blood pressure,” he pointed out. But they do find time to attend church and church group meetings.