Gospel Music: A Catalyst for Retention, Engagement, and Positive Health Outcomes for African Americans in a Cardiovascular Prevention and Treatment Program

Barry Bittman, MD; Indu Poornima, MD; Michael A. Smith, PhD; R. Eric Heidel, PhD

Context • Mortality associated with cardiovascular disease is significantly higher in African Americans compared with people of other ethnicities, with hypertension being the single most significant risk factor in this population. Underdiagnosis and undertreatment of hypertension is common. Although cardiovascular lifestyle education and self-management programs are available for the general public, many African Americans prefer to learn about health-promoting activities through interactive programs led by church ministries.
Objective • This study examined the influence of adding a faith-based protocol using creative musical expression as a catalyst for improving retention, engagement, and positive health outcomes for African Americans participating in a 1-y, lifestyle skills program for reducing cardiovascular risk factors.
Design • The study was a randomized, controlled trial.
Setting • The study occurred at Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church (Pittsburgh, PA, USA).
Participants • Participants were African Americans with at least 2 of the following medical conditions: high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and/or triglycerides, heart attack, angina, stroke, irregular heartbeats, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, diabetes, and tobacco use.
Intervention • Intervention and control groups both participated every other week in one 45-min structured cardiovascular risk reduction educational session over the course of 1 year. During alternative weeks, sessions comprised blood pressure checks, coupled with individualized support discussions focused on challenges and identified obstacles to adherence. In addition to the aforementioned sessions, the intervention group participated in a novel gospel music program with weekly, 45-minute vocal and instrumental sessions.
Outcome Measures • Outcome measures include retention, attendance, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, weight, body mass index, hip measurement, and waist measurement as well as the Short Form-12
(SH-12) Health Survey.
Results • Subjects in the intervention group demonstrated a statistically significant 83.3% retention rate in the course of 1 year compared with only 54.3% for the control group (cardiovascular lifestyle education sessions alone). Six dropouts were noted in the intervention group in sharp contrast to 16 dropouts in the control group. Participants in the intervention group were 4.21 times more likely to complete the program than the control group. A significant difference was also noted for attendance, which was higher for the intervention group (21.33 sessions for the intervention group vs 17.95 sessions for the control group). Statistically significant systolic blood pressure reductions noted in both groups were sustained 6 mo postprogram conclusion. In addition, a statistically significant pre-between post-between group improvement in SF-12 Physical Component Scores was noted for intervention subjects in sharp contrast with controls who actually demonstrated worsening scores.
Conclusions • The addition of a gospel music program as a catalyst for increase engagement in a sustainable, healthy lifestyle program warrants further consideration and additional study in African American churches. (Adv Mind Body Med. 2020;34(1):8-16).


Barry Bittman, MD, is a neurologist at the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Indu Poornima, MD, is an Associate Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine Program and Director, Cardiology Fellowship at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Michael A. Smith, PhD, is Technical Lead, Digital Experiences Group, Apple Inc., Cupertino, California. R. Eric Heidel, PhD, is Associate Professor of Biostatistics in the Department of Surgery at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine.




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