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Study targets heart disease in African-Americans through local churches

“They are very excited about the project and the opportunity that someone is reaching out to them,” said Dr. Marilyn Payne, a consultant to the CHERISH study.

NEW ORLEANS — It's an illness that each year takes three times the lives as the pandemic has in the U.S. And the African-American community is much harder hit by heart disease. And that makes the coronavirus even more dangerous.

Now a community study aims to change that health disparity.  

The lives taken by the pandemic put a spotlight on a health disparity in the African-American community. 

“We recognize higher hypertension, more heart failure, more stroke, more chronic kidney disease, but here's the big question, ‘What can we do about it?’” asks Dr. Keith Ferdinand, a Tulane Preventive Cardiologist.

So doctors at Tulane are doing something by going straight to African-American churches.

“They are very excited about the project and the opportunity that someone is reaching out to them,” said Dr. Marilyn Payne, a consultant to the CHERISH study.

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Forty-two churches in New Orleans and Bogalusa will be part of the CHERISH study. It will sign up 1,050 members who are 40 and older. They will be followed for 18 months.

When asked if this study could be life-changing for participants, Tulane Chair of Epidemiologist Dr. Jiang He replied,  “Yeah, we hope this program will make New Orleans a much cardiovascular healthy environment.”

Lifestyle is the main driver of heart disease, so new ways to prepare food, quitting smoking, exercising, taking medication, will be part of the member to member education, and support.

”Perhaps if communities will better understand and embrace the need to change, then transmit that across families, across cultural barriers, across generations, whether that will be the secret sauce to change some of these disparities,” said Dr. Ferdinand.

The study will see what works better at changing health habits, peer to peer intervention, or education.  A 15-minute doctor visit now and then is not enough.

Heart disease is the number one killer, but the doctors say during a pandemic year this study to help with lifestyle change is even more important.

“Yes, it's extremely, extremely important,” noted Dr. Payne.

“And we hope this project will make our community more healthy,” said Dr. He.

And it is hoped it will empower people to take control over heart disease since there is no vaccine that can prevent it.

Churches that want to find out more about the Tulane CHERISH study can call 504-988-5432.

The CHERISH study email is cherish@tulane.edu.

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