Rural Religious Leaders’ Perspectives on Their Communities’ Health Priorities and Health
In traditionally underserved communities, faith-based interventions have been shown to be effective for health promotion. Religious leaders-generally the major partner in such interventions-however, are seldom are consulted about community health priorities and health promotion preferences. These insights are critical to ensure productive partnerships, effective programming, and sustainability.
Mixed-methods surveys were administered in one of the nation’s most under-resourced regions: rural Appalachia. A sample of 60 religious leaders, representing the main denominations in central Appalachia, participated. Measures included closed- and open-ended survey questions on health priorities and recommendations for health promotion. Descriptive statistics were used for closed-ended survey items and conventional qualitative content analysis was used for open-ended responses.
Substance abuse, diabetes mellitus, suboptimal dietary intake and obesity/overweight, and cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses constitute major health concerns. Addressing these challenging conditions requires realistically acknowledging sparse community resources (particularly healthcare provider shortages); building in accountability; and leveraging local assets and traditions such as testimonials, intergenerational support, and witnessing.
With their extensive reach within the community and their accurate understanding of community health threats, practitioners and researchers may find religious leaders to be natural allies in health-promotion and disease-prevention activities.
Overview of article
- This article assess the effectiveness of faith-based interventions for health promotion
Methods of article
- Mixed-methods surveys were administered in rural Appalachia. A sample of 60 religious leaders, representing the main denominations in central Appalachia, participated. Measures included closed- and open-ended survey questions on health priorities and recommendations for health promotion
- Respondents (e.g., through surveys from ministers/church leaders) indicated that substance abuse, specifically drugs, constitutes the major community health problem. Church representatives also identified diabetes, poor diet, overweight/obesity, cancer, hypertension and heart disease, respiratory conditions, and inadequate amounts of exercise as major health priorities
- Mentioned strategies to address these problems include health education classes, better access to fitness facilities, walking and gardening, and wellness groups sessions/testimonials. Respondents did not endorse public service announcements or advertising nor did they view technology-based approaches as promising. They put an emphasis on more interpersonal communication
- Needs of focus to enact identified approaches include accountability (e.g., buddy systems, social support) ensure program affordability (e.g., walking groups), and
ensure intergenerational engagement (e.g., parent/child cooking classes), all in the context of a constrained environment
- Faith institutions are conducive to health promotion because of the values placed on health, established social connections and community engagement, infrastructural support, and role modeling
- Moving forward this study can be used to help researchers and healthcare providers. For researchers, it may be useful to engage religious leaders early on in research design and implementation to better understand community priorities and community buy-in. For providers, created and fostered relationships between them and religious leaders may help to alleviate the high demand for medical expertise and workaround many of the barriers to care patients in rural settings face (e.g., issues with transportation)
- Limitation includes the use of a small, rural convenience sample