African American women most at risk
February was National Healthy Heart Month, and thanks to Dr. LaPrincess Brewer and local church leaders in Rochester, Minnesota, the FAITH Program promoted heart health one heart at a time.
Brewer is an assistant professor at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine’s department of cardiovascular medicine. She began her training in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and completed the cardiology training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Her focus is preventative cardiology and women’s heart health. Her research focused on risk factor modification in underserved populations. That research led to her interest in making sure underserved populations would become aware of high-risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
These factors place African Americans at a higher risk for heart disease. “My passion is to develop interventions that can help people overcome the risk factor,” she says.
Brewer oversees the FAITH program (Fostering African American Improvement to Total Health), which collaborates with community churches to improve participant health. FAITH was originally created as part of Brewer’s public health studies at John Hopkins, where the students were challenged to come up with a community intervention to help prevent chronic disease.
“We thought about where we should go that was the center of the African American community. As a group working on the project, we decided that was the Black church,” Brewer said, adding, “The program was created with church leaders.” The church is a long-standing cornerstone of the African American community.
“We initially wanted to focus on healthy eating and how to prevent chronic disease by way of healthier eating patterns in the African American community,” said Brewer. The program offered healthy cooking classes and advice from guest speakers about hypertension, how to read nutrition labels, and how to prevent diabetes. Said Brewer, “It was really a great success. We had a really good time.”
After transferring to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, she wanted to continue the work she started in Baltimore, “… because it truly made a difference in changing the culture of the church in Baltimore.”
According to final reports, changes were made in participants’ eating habits, eating less fried chicken and more fruits and vegetables at church events. Participants reported spreading their knowledge into the community-at-large.
Brewer collaborated with three churches in Rochester to reinvigorate their health ministries with a focus on heart health. “Within those churches in Rochester, many African Americans were being affected by heart disease and…the FAITH program was right on time to help address these issues.”
The Rochester program ran for 16 weeks, which was longer than the program in Baltimore. There were meetings every other week with surveys at the beginning and at the end of the program. Research showed an increase in participants’ knowledge about heart disease and the benefit of healthier eating and healthier life style practice.
Brewer noted that research results were encouraging, prompting the desire to expand the program into more churches. The first participants were so happy about the program that they asked Brewer to help them make a community-based mobile application called The FAITH! APP developed based on the needs, wants and expectations of the church community.
“We wanted to make sure that the app was culturally appropriate and that it was something they would enjoy using,” Brewer said. The app was launched in 2015 as a research study similar to her in-person groups.
Brewer said the app was a huge success with a huge impact on participants’ lives. “They felt it was useful and it was easy for them to use and…share with others in the community.”
Baltimore is no longer hosting the FAITH program specifically but, said Brewer, “They are still implementing some of the things we taught them while hosting our programs.”
The Baltimore church created a food pantry that provides healthy snacks after church services. The congregation buys the snacks and the funds collected are used to replenish the supply each month. Brewer noted that members have also begun taking heed of the need to eat healthier.
This year, 2018, marks the program’s 10-year anniversary. FAITH program will feature several events over the summer in Rochester and Baltimore. “During our 10-year celebration, we hope to go back to Baltimore and talk to some of the original FAITH participants to see how they continue to live healthy.”
Although still in the planning stages for many of the events, Brewer is very excited about the Faith Walk. It celebrates the hard work of community churches, the participants, and Brewer while promoting fitness for heart health.
On February 11, Brewer promoted heart health for women at St. Albans Church of God and Christ in St. Paul, Minnesota. The event, “Red Dress, Red Tie,” encouraged women to wear a red dress and men to wear red ties as a reminder to take care of their heart health. The goal was to increase awareness about how heart disease as the leading cause of death among women and that it is worse in African American women.
“African American women don’t recognize heart disease as being their greatest threat,” said Brewer. “It is not breast cancer, it’s not stroke, it’s not the flu – it’s actually heart disease.
“Each year, more women die from heart disease than breast cancer, stroke and lung cancer combined. Only about one-third of African American women are aware that heart disease is our number-one cause of death.”
Brewer recommended not to just look at the body outside, “but to also look at the health of the body from the inside, beginning with the heart. The seven simple steps strategy is provided to help prevent heart disease: Know your blood pressure numbers, your cholesterol, and your blood sugar numbers.”
Heart disease is preventable by taking the correct steps. If you need more information on prevention or cures, check out the American Heart Association website at www.heart.org, for “Seven Simple Steps to Heart Health.”
Brandi Phillips invites reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandi Phillips is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.