By Elyse Wild | photography by Two Eagles Marcus
The statistics behind heart disease are staggering: As the number one killer of women, it claims the lives of more than 400,000 per yeaer, exceeding breast cancer by nearly 350,000. One-in-three women will die from it. Within that group are especially vulnerable populations: Nearly 50 percent of African American women over the age of 20 have heart disease, and Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 year earlier than any other racial group.
Fortunately, changes in lifestyle can result in lowering one’s risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent.
Three years ago, the West Michigan American Heart Association launched the Have Faith in Heart Campaign to empower the communities affected most by this silent killer. The campaign offers educational materials and programs to churches, including heart healthy recipe books, blood pressure testing, informational fliers and more.
“The American Heart Association has been looking to close the gap in the disparities of health,” Cindy Bouma, communications director at the West Michigan AHA, said. “Recent studies show that increased awareness about cardiovascular disease and stroke through the church is most effective in changing behavior.”
This year’s campaign is sponsored by Mercy Health and includes nearly 40 churches across West Michigan. Along with educating their congregations, churches also participate in National Wear Red Day to further raise awareness for heart disease.
Eva Lauchie is the Health Minister at Grace for Nations Church in Grand Rapids. Lauchie leads the Mind, Body and Spirit campaign at the church and became involved in Have Faith in Heart last year.
“We are putting our efforts toward not only being spiritually healthy, but physically healthy,” she commented. “What better way than to focus on the heart?”
Lauchie explains how the church implements the provided materials: She reminds church-goers of Go Red as she greets them; the pastor includes an announcement before his sermon; information cards and fliers on how to cut out sugar, incorporate nutritious foods into one’s diet and increase exercise are provided; and one Sunday a month, they provide free blood pressure screenings to parishioners.
“Awareness allows conversations to happen,” Lauchie expressed. “It allows us to be open about our physical needs and health issues.”
Studies demonstrate that programs such as Have Faith in Heart are successful in mitigating the risks of heart disease among the participating congregations.
A 2019 report published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes showed a greater drop in systolic blood pressure in participants who received their information from their faith-community than those who had received it through typical public health education programs.
This year, Lauchie’s church is implementing heart health programming provided by the West Michigan AHA not only in February, but all year long, each month covering a different topic related to cardio-vascular wellness.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Lauchie said. “When we respond before a crisis occurs, that is when we begin to mitigate our risk.”