African American women have higher rates of diabetes and obesity than White women, increasing their risk for multiple chronic diseases. Although lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise can help, African American women also tend to benefit less from these interventions than White women. Baylor Scott & White Research Institute researcher Heather Kitzman, PhD, had the important idea that faith-based interventions may be more successful than typical interventions to engage African American women in weight loss and other healthy behaviors. Her team’s publication on this work was recently honored with the Dorothy Nyswander 2021 Paper of the Year Award from the American Journal of Health Promotion.
The award-winning study, published in February 2021, describes the results of a community-based cluster-randomized trial known as Better Me Within. The trial compared a faith-based diabetes prevention program (FDPP) to a secular diabetes prevention program (SDPP) for African American women with diabetes. Five churches with 102 eligible women were randomized into the SDPP, a 16-week structured program facilitated by trained congregation members at church sites. Six churches with 119 eligible women were randomized into the faith-based diabetes prevention program (FDPP), which added five faith-based components to the SDPP curriculum, including a weekly sermon delivered by a pastor or pastor associate.
Although women in both groups lost weight, the subgroup of women with high attendance (attending 15 or more sessions) in the FDPP group had the largest weight loss, losing an average of 12.4 pounds at ten months. Weight loss for those with low attendance or those in the SDPP group ranged from 3.3 to 5.0 pounds. All women in the study also showed improvement in health behaviors and markers of disease risk.
This study highlights the importance of community-based participatory research and the ability of pastors to serve as agents of change in African American communities. The authors propose that facilitating DPP programs within churches could improve the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions, especially in African American communities with lower resources, and that integrating pastors into health promotion may further improve the benefit.
The Dorothy Nyswander 2021 Paper of the Year Award is given in honor of Dr. Dorothy Nyswander, described by Paul Terry, PhD, Editor in Chief at the American Journal of Health Promotion, as “the pioneer in the field of health education.” He said of Dr. Kitzman’s winning paper, “Nyswander would be as impressed with the community organizing and participatory approach to this research as she would be with the health improvements.”
Dr. Kitzman is the research director at the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Center (BSW HWC). Located at the Juanita J. Craft Recreation Center in South Dallas, the BSW HWC focuses on community collaboration and provides comprehensive services spanning healthcare, health education, nutrition consultation, and physical activity. Dr. Kitzman’s research emphasizes health and health care disparities in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. Her team uses innovative approaches to test novel strategies for improving community health.