The Greater Love Tabernacle prides itself on spiritual salvation.
But during one recent six-week stretch, the church focused on a more earthly pursuit — health care.
From April 6 to May 18, church members participated in the Connections Create a Healthier Community Health Challenge, a competition that organizers said they hoped would trigger a renewed commitment to exercise, better diet and healthier lifestyles.
The challenge was launched by the Angry Heart Collaborative, a grassroots community health project aiming to “address racial health disparities through education, communication and action,” according to its Web site.
Jay Fedigan created the collaborative in 2002, the year after the Boston filmmaker released “The Angry Heart: The Impact of Racism on Heart Disease Among African Americans,” a documentary focusing on disparities between the quality of health care and services received by African Americans and the care received by whites.
“The name ‘The Angry Heart’ came as the result of the anger that some people — especially African Americans — have, and it’s due to unfair treatment and the discrimination they’ve experienced their entire life,” said Fedigan. He co-chairs the collaborative with Paula Parnagian, president of World View Services, a Revere-based diversity and conflict management consulting firm.
For some, that history of unequal treatment can be as big a deterrent to seeking medical care as financial difficulties or inadequate facilities.
“We recognize that it’s not about access, [and] it’s certainly not about health insurance,” said Elmer R. Freeman, executive director of the Center for Community Health, Education, Research and Service, a partnership between several Boston colleges, medical centers and public health organizations that organized the challenge. “It is about how you get treated. We’ve been raised in a society where there is discrimination — doctors are not immune to that.”
The effects are troubling. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among African Americans, according to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. African American adults are less likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease than other racial or ethnic groups, but are more likely to die from it.
African Americans are also twice as likely to die from stroke as whites, according to the National Stroke Association, and are affected by stroke more often than any other demographic group.
Not all of the reasons why African Americans are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke are known. But when it comes to some risk factors that can be controlled — including tobacco smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — African Americans have higher incidence rates than other groups. Diabetes is also a significant risk factor.
The challenge kicked off in April with a group meeting at Greater Love Tabernacle, where the 50 participants from the church watched “The Angry Heart.” Satrina Dottin said she found the film inspiring.
“I felt sad [watching it], but motivated at the same time,” said Dottin, 50, a clinical social worker social worker from Dorchester. “I started thinking that this is something we can address.”
At that first meeting, participants were given “health diaries” to use during the six-week challenge. The diaries included tracking sheets for each day of the program, healthy recipes, suggestions for heart-healthy ingredient substitutions, as well as a list of sobering facts about African Americans’ risk of both heart attack and stroke, and many common warning signs that an individual is suffering from such an episode.
A heart-healthy meal was also served at the kickoff meeting, made with recipes pulled “straight from the health diary, [because the organizers] wanted to show us how the meals would taste,” according to Dottin, who called the healthier fare “very satisfying.”
The competition required participants to record their daily progress in their diaries, noting whether they walked that day, exercised at home, checked their blood pressure, tried one of the recipes included in the diary, visited their doctor or dentist, or engaged in other healthy activities. Points were awarded for each entry made, then tallied at the end of each day.(p2)
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