A 20-year project called the “Jackson Heart Study” surveyed participants to study the connection between heart health and religion. The results show a link between faith and increased heart health. (Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash)

By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO,

Staggering statistics reveal a disparity in cardiovascular health in the African-American community. 

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, hospitalization from heart failure is twice as likely among Blacks, but the table is turning. The Jackson Heart Study, a 20-year research project conducted in Jackson, Miss. shows that religious practices and spirituality led to increased heart health among African Americans.

The United States National Library of Medicine, located in Bethesda, Md., reports that over 80 percent of African Americans identify as being “religious” and “spiritual.” Tapping into this area of life is a significant factor for those looking to improve their heart health and reduce disparities in cardiovascular health for African Americans. 

Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, a Mayo Clinic preventive cardiologist and first author on the Jackson Heart Study, spoke with the AFRO about the link between heart and soul. 

“The results of this study have significant implications for promoting heart health among African Americans, including the opportunity to incorporate religion and spirituality into culturally tailored behavioral interventions,” she said. “The findings may encourage pastors and other church leaders to become allies for intervention implementation and promote healthy behaviors guided by religiosity and spirituality.”

“Additionally, this study supports our other research that denotes African-American churches as the foundation of health-promoting, community-based intervention,” Brewer continued. “The social network provides stability, optimism, and stress-buffering while encouraging congregants to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.”

Participants of the Jackson Heart Study were interviewed and surveyed on various social and cultural factors involving heart health, religious attendance, private prayer practices, coping mechanisms, sources of stress and connection with God. 

They were screened in conjunction with the American Heart Association Life’s Simple Seven components that promote healthy heart conditions: diet, physical activity, smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose.

Out of almost 3,000 participants, 65.7 percent of which were women, higher levels of

attendance in religious services was associated with greater likelihood of intermediate or ideal levels of heart health. 

Participants who had a private prayer routine were shown to have better diets. Out of almost 3,000 participants, higher levels of attendance in a weekly religious service were also associated with better health.  In part because, as many studies have shown, “greater religiosity/spirituality has been linked to better health behaviors such as lower caloric intake, alcohol use, and smoking,” according to the authors of the essay.

Ella Jackson, of Jackson, Miss., whose mother participated in the Jackson Heart Study from the onset, shared her memories with the AFRO. 

“My mom didn’t miss an appointment or an event. She stopped eating pork, and food that was forbidden in the Bible and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. She was a strong Christian woman, very active in Christian organizations and the local church,” said Jackson. “Her experience verified what doctors and science were saying about health. She was disciplined. My mother lived a full life that would not have been if she refused to change. In September 2021, she died at the age of 93.” 

Bishop Ronnie Crudup, senior pastor of New Horizon Church International in Jackson, Miss., said he encourages African Americans to remember they shouldn’t “confuse liberty with good operational procedures.” 

“You have to have self-imposed boundaries. When you don’t put on self-restraint you get into a world of trouble and that certainly is true when it comes to diet,” said Crudup, who evangelizes both God and sound health practices. “If we’re going to have a better future, we have to take better care of ourselves.”

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