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Church attendance may serve as an additional health care safety net for impoverished black communities

Church plays a central role in the lives of blacks in the United States, and it often serves as a source of social support. Regular church attendance may also have a positive influence on the health practices of low-income urban blacks, concludes a study by researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Blacks in one low-income, urban community who attended church regularly (at least once a month) were 50 percent more likely to visit the dentist and 60 percent more likely to get their blood pressure checked than community residents who did not attend church. However, the effect of church attendance on having a mammogram or a regular source of care were not significant.

Church attendance appeared to have the greatest health benefit for the most vulnerable individuals. For example, it had no effect on the likelihood of getting a Pap smear for insured women or those with fewer than two medical conditions. However, churchgoing black women who were uninsured and those who suffered from two or more medical conditions were twice as likely as black women who didn't attend church to have had a Pap smear within the past 2 years.

Church attendance may provide social support that facilitates and reinforces positive health-seeking behaviors. Also, the church may serve as a site of health care service delivery and provide information on available services. Community- and faith-based organizations present additional opportunities to improve the health of low-income and minority populations, suggest Kaytura Felix-Aaron, M.D., AHRQ's Senior Advisor on Minority Health, and Helen R. Burstin, M.D., M.P.H., director of AHRQ's Center for Primary Care, Prevention, and Clinical Partnerships. They used a survey of households (2,196 adults) in a black, inner city, low-income neighborhood to examine the relationship between church attendance and receipt of a Pap smear, mammogram, or dental visit within 2 years; blood pressure measurement within 1 year; having a regular source of care; and reporting no perceived delays in care in the prior year.

See "African American church participation and health care practices," by Dr. Felix-Aaron, David Levine, M.D., Sc.D., and Dr. Burstin, in the November 2003 Journal of General Internal Medicine 18, pp. 908-913.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 04-R022) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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