Rx Nutrition Resource Center
Rx Nutrition Resource Center
February 21, 2020
2 min read

Church-based intervention significantly improves older African Americans’ eating habits

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Penny Ralston
Penny Ralston

A church-based intervention significantly improved the diets of middle-aged and older African Americans, according to longitudinal trial results published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

CVD is the leading cause of death in the United States, and African Americans are disproportionately affected. As a result, health experts have been searching for ways to reach the African American community, often relying on places of worship and other venues. For example, the FAITH study found that a community-based lifestyle intervention helped to reduced church members’ systolic BP. Researchers have also identified barbershops as an ideal setting where African American men can get their BP checked and even get tested for diabetes.

In the most recent study, Penny Ralston, PhD, director of the Center on Better Health & Life for Underserved Populations in Tallahassee, Florida, and colleagues studied the diet of 211 African Americans aged 45 years and older from six churches in north Florida. About half of these adults participated in the Health for Hearts United, a church-based intervention that was implemented in 3, 6-month phases, built around three components.

According to Ralston and colleagues, the first component, awareness building, focused on eating better. Participants received postcards with information on CVD and ways to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and calcium into their diet, as well as tips to lower sodium intake.

The second component, clinical learning, was geared toward getting participants to move more and to reduce stress. According to Ralston and colleagues, participants were sent postcards and a newsletter with tips provided by an exercise physiologist, a licensed psychologist, a personal trainer and church health leaders. Some of the tips included joining a walking program, taking stairs instead of elevators, sleeping at least 7 hours each night and putting grudges to rest.

The third component, efficiency development, focused on taking charge of one’s health. Participants again received a postcard and newsletter with suggestions from health professionals and community representatives. This time, participants were encouraged to know and keep track of their BMI, BP and weight, and ask their health providers for reliable websites and media to stay informed on health matters, Ralston told Healio Primary Care.

The remaining participants served as a comparison group. Dietary outcomes for both groups were recorded at baseline and at 6, 18 and 24 months.

Ralston and colleagues found “significant improvements” in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and fat consumption in both the treatment and comparison groups. A post hoc analysis showed that the treatment group had greater increases in fruit and vegetable consumption than the comparison group between phases 1 and 3 (P = .03).

“These findings for dietary improvements as a result of a church-based intervention are consistent with previous studies, including recent longitudinal studies,” Ralston and colleagues wrote. – by Janel Miller


Osorio M, et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6867.

Ralston PA, et al. Am J Prev Med. 2019;doi:1016.j.amepre.2019.09.024.

Ralston PA, et al. Ethn Dis. 2017;doi:10.18865/ed.27.1.21.

Schoenthaler A, et al. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2018;doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.118.004691.

Victor RG, et al. ACC/NEJM Late-Breaking Clinical Trials. Presented at: American College of Cardiology Scientific Session; March 10-12, 2018; Orlando, Fla.

Victor RG, et al. N Engl J Med. 2018;doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1717250.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.