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The National Institutes of Health has partnered with Tulane University and forty-two churches in the New Orleans area to start a five-year study to address hypertension in the black community.  A grant of $7.6 million has been donated to train church wellness coordinators to work with church members to start early conversations about disparities in controlling their blood pressure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypertension is more prevalent in Black Americans than any other group.  Hypertension is also considered the leading preventable risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other chronic conditions.

Cornerstone United Methodist’s Reverend JC Richardson says that the partnership is not a missionary activity because those efforts didn’t work in the past.  Richardson says that the members of the congregation are working to reduce the over-occurrence of hypertension in the black community.

In March 2022, an American Heart Association (AHA) study revealed that 55% of Black Americans suffer from hypertension (HBP), which is among the highest rate in the world. The AHA also cites that “historical and systemic factors play a major role along with adverse social determinants of health and the conditions in which a person is born and lives.” Determinants include the lack of access to healthcare, healthy foods, medication and other societal issues. The distrust of health care professionals based on historical discrimination is also a contributing factor, according to the AHA.

The study will begin in 2023 with the training of wellness coordinators who will check blood pressure and teach church members how to check their blood pressure at home. Church members will also learn about how to follow medication schedules and how to include exercise and a healthier diet in their daily routines. Participants with high blood pressure will receive 18 months of support, including counseling from coordinators and a referral to healthcare providers.  Blood pressure medicine will also be provided at no charge to those who can’t afford the medication and to those who don’t qualify for government assistance. Researchers say that if successful, the program may expand to other parts of the country.