Church Challenge

Dr. Vicki Johnson-Lawrence
Chronic disease carries high morbidity and mortality in the United States, with large racial and ethnic disparities observed in chronic disease. Physical activity and healthy food are vital for chronic disease prevention yet challenging to access in economically distressed areas. Public health prevention efforts have become particularly prominent within faith-based organizations over the last three decades. This manuscript describes the protocol of the Church Challenge, a multilevel cluster-randomized controlled nutrition and physical activity trial across 24 churches to reduce blood pressure by 6 mmHg among 576 residents in Flint, MI. The Church Challenge was developed using community-based participatory approaches and is rooted in a church-based program developed by and for primarily African-American Flint church congregations. This three-level intervention addresses health at the community (level 3), church (level 2), and individual (level 1) to reduce blood pressure, reduce chronic disease risk, and promote health equity and wellbeing in Flint. Churches are randomized in a 1:1 ratio to a 16-week physical activity and nutrition program or a 4-session health and wellness workshop. Flint is not a unique community but has a history of traumatic community wide events; even now, the public health infrastructure continues to be a challenge and distract residents from focusing on their health. This trial is highly significant and innovative because it uses a combination of evidence-based practices simultaneously supporting health behavior change for individuals and their faith organizations, and evaluates multilevel efforts to sustain long-term health promotion activities in vulnerable communities like Flint.