FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
The path to reducing rates of hypertension in black communities may start in the church pews, according to a new study by New York City researchers. Specially trained community health workers operating within faith communities in New York City were able to significantly reduce and manage hypertension in black communities, compared with health education alone, according to researchers at the NYU School of Medicine.
Historically, women tend to be the stalwarts when it comes to religion, while men attend religious services less often and are less likely to say their faith is very important to them. But a new analysis shows that black men defy this trend.
A study by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday (Sept. 26) has found that while black men are less religious than black women, they are more religious than white women and white men.
African-American men are equally as likely as Hispanic women to be what Pew considers “highly religious,” so they are tied the second-most religious group.
Sixty-nine percent of black men in Pew’s study say religion is very important, while 78 percent say they believe in God with absolute certainty and 70 percent are considered highly religious.
“Highly religious,” according to Pew, includes those who pray at least once a day, attend religious services at least once a week, are absolutely certain about their belief in God and say religion is very important in their lives.
While 7 in 10 black men fit that description, 83 percent of black women are highly religious, Pew says. About two-thirds of Hispanic women, 58 percent of white women, half of Hispanic men and 44 percent of white men are considered very religious.
Across generations, researchers report differences. Fewer than 4 in 10 African-American millennials say they attend services weekly, compared with half of older blacks. Six in 10 of black millennials say they pray daily; in comparison, 78 percent older blacks report praying daily.
The Pew analysis is based on data from its 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The margin of error for black men was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points and was lower for the other groups.
A dozen doughnut holes. Growing up, that was a typical breakfast for Tassiana Willis, a 24-year-old African-American poet. In her family, moments of joy centered around sweets. Her grandfather, a man of few words, showed affection through weekend trips to McDonald’s.
learned to find i love you in white paper bags
instead of his lips
see, I loved food out of ritual
Willis, who grew up in San Francisco, has harnessed the power of poetry to raise awareness about Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease caused largely by poor dietary habits and lack of exercise. It once affected mostly adults but now is spreading at alarming rates among young people, especially minorities and youth from low-income households.
“Raise your voice and change the conversation,” urges the tagline on four new videos produced for an arts and public health campaign called The Bigger Picture. The videos, including one by Willis called “The Longest Mile,” show young poets telling deeply personal stories about the life circumstances that promote diabetes.
The videos challenge viewers to look at “the bigger picture” behind the startling rise of diabetes. Instead of highlighting poor individual choices, they expose the social and economic factors — everything from food pricing and marketing to unequal access to parks and playgrounds — that conspire to push young people of color into an unhealthy lifestyle.
“The way these stories are told … really calls for social change,” said Natasha Huey, who managed the campaign for Youth Speaks, one of four youth development organizations across California that partnered with the University of California-San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations to produce the poetry videos.
The Bigger Picture, which launched in 2011, has produced more than two dozen videos about diabetes, which together have been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube. They have also been presented at school assemblies for thousands of Bay Area students.
Willis said she is obese now because of the way her financially strapped family ate when she was young. “There are powerful emotions behind why we eat what we eat,” she said in an interview.
In “The Longest Mile,” Willis recalls the humiliation of being unable to run a mile during PE class in middle school. “I wasn’t slow / I was just fat.” Obesity is fueling the spread of Type 2 diabetes, and Willis knows she’s at high risk for the disease.
by luck I escaped type 1
i feel like I’m always
1 soda away from type 2
that’s like dodging a bullet
and committing suicide with a gun
in my kitchen
Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is related to lifestyle choices and obesity, Type 1 diabetes typically develops in early childhood and is believed to be the result of genetic factors and environmental triggers, including viruses.
“We’re at the tipping point in this disease,” said Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor of medicine at UCSF and director of health communications at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, who co-created the Bigger Picture campaign. “The trajectory is very scary and the rate of increase, particularly in youth of color, is exponential.”
In a recent JAMA paper featuring the new videos, he stressed the importance of shifting the way diabetes is characterized in public health education.
“The overarching objective is to change the conversation about diabetes away from it being an individual ‘shame and blame’ message to approaching it as a societal problem,” Schillinger said.
In another video, “Empty Plate,” Anthony “Joker” Orosco, a 20-year old Chicano poet, depicts his farmworker relatives who can’t afford to buy the produce they pick.
Backs breaking bones aching Harvesting healthy fruits and veggies Acre by acre, The bounty of California’s breadbasket That almost never blessed the tables of farmero families,
Orosco, who grew up in Stockton, a city in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, said he was inspired to honor the hard work of immigrants who sacrificed for his generation.
Low-income people often struggle to buy fresh vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods, because those choices are more expensive than the sugary, fat-laden processed foods widely available in many poor neighborhoods. In a 2013 study, researchers at Harvard and Brown universities found that a healthful diet costs about $550 a year more per person than an unhealthy one.
Schillinger said that, based on his earlier experience with the AIDS epidemic and anti-tobacco campaigns, he believes there needs to be a “groundswell of grass-roots activism” if the course of Type 2 diabetes is to be reversed.
“A young person getting diabetes is an injustice, and so the campaign features young people who are targets of diabetes risk but are now becoming agents of change,” he said.
In “Monster,” Rose Bergmann, 17, and Liliana Perez, 16, talk about fathers who relied on sugar-packed energy drinks to work double shifts to support their families.
52 grams [of sugar] from the can keep his eyes open
Sugar creating their own hands around his throat
The industry that makes sweetened drinks has taken notice. “We do agree that people need to manage their sugar intake,” said Lauren Kane, senior director of communications for the American Beverage Association in Washington, D.C. She said beverage makers are “aggressively working to innovate to offer more products with less sugar … and to create interest in access to those beverages.”
McDonald’s has also recently announced new nutritional standards to reduce the number of calories in its Happy Meals, which are marketed to children.
Los Angeles poet Edgar Tumbokon, 19, said nutritious food did not play a big role in his childhood. “I grew up in a food desert surrounded by a culture and kids who loved to eat junk food,” he said. “Eating healthy was considered ‘a white thing.’”
Tumbokon, who weighed 13 pounds at birth, said his poem, “Big Boy,” was inspired by his immigrant Filipino mother, who developed gestational diabetes, which now afflicts 1 in 11 pregnant women. He grew up watching her test her blood sugar and inject herself with insulin.
“Can you love your neighbor as yourself, and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?” American Christian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Scott “Bam Bam” Sullivan wonders in an interview with The Times (London).
Today over 700 evangelical US churches now integrate MMA (also known as cage-fighting) into their ministry programs. The phenomenon has even been featured in a recent documentary film, 2014’s Fight Church.
MMA is a combination of kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Greco-Roman wrestling and Thai boxing. Fighters face off against one another, brutally inflicting pain by punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing their opponents into submission. The intensity of the sport’s violence caused the late Senator John McCain to call for an outright ban on MMA in the US. He denounced it as “human cockfighting,” a “blood sport,” and a “blood bath.”
Making church manly
The notion that MMA and Christianity are compatible bedfellows is loosely based on the ideology of Muscular Christianity, a mostly-male, Victorian-era movement that linked the gospel with physical and mental toughness. Two leaders of the movement – Charles Kingsley, a clergymen and scholar, and Thomas Hughes, a celebrated Victorian era author (and boxing coach) – sought to counter the perceived feminization of church and to attract men to the faith.
The muscular Christian ethos was instrumental in the birth of modern sport, particularly in late 19th century British public schools. However, there was a marked decline in an institutional sport-faith link, which lasted until the 1950s. Then Protestant Christian leaders like Billy Graham saw sport as a potential evangelical tool and rekindled the church’s promotion of it.
Like their Victorian forefathers, these organizations champion sport as a way to attract young men to faith in an age when the decline of church male membership has been well-documented. Yet MMA religious communities have refashioned Muscular Christianity to a new level of high-octane biblical masculinity.
It’s this perception of “Jesus as fighter” that is at the heart of the Christian MMA ethos, one eagerly embraced by Mark Driscoll, a well-known, US-based evangelical pastor and MMA supporter.
“I don’t think that there is anything purer than putting two men in a cage…and just seeing which man is better,” Driscoll said. “And as a pastor, as a bible teacher, I think God made men masculine… Men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion.”
A moment’s theological reflection, however, raises a host of ethical quandaries and paradoxes for the theologian or thoughtful Christian.
Core biblical teachings challenge the uncritical acceptance and justification of MMA. According to the Bible, humans are made in the image of God – imago Dei – and thus, in the sight of God, human personhood has incredible grandeur and dignity. Second, the centrality of the call to non-violence in the teachings of Jesus seems to be fundamentally incompatible with MMA. Finally, if the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), what would be the theological basis for the acceptance of brutal and intentional violence against the body and soul (Matt 6:22-23) in MMA competition?
In addition to the theological objections to MMA, there’s a wealth of medical evidence that demonstrates the risk of traumatic brain injury, psychiatric conditions, concussion, irreversible neurological dysfunction and even death. Both the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association have repeatedly called for a ban on boxing and, more recently, MMA.
Those in the pro-MMA (and boxing) camp are also quick to point out that deaths, in absolute terms, are higher in other high-risk sporting activities, such as sky diving, rugby, American football and horse racing. But what differentiates MMA (and boxing) from these other sports is that the principal aim within the rules is to inflict violence on one’s opponent to win. Conversely, while a participant playing American football or rugby could be seriously injured (or killed) from the sport’s inherent violence, the intention (ideally) is to merely stop the opposing player from advancing into one’s own territory.
Nonetheless, contradictions abound. When considering the theological and medical evidence and the principal objectives of MMA, how can Christian MMA participants use scripture to justify their actions? What do they make of the fact that many other sporting activities are physically demanding, involve physical contact, and can assist in character development – but do not involve intentionally beating one’s opponent into submission? How do they reconcile their faith and the health risks of this brutal sport: brain bleeds, varying levels of concussion, death, emotional trauma and a hardening of heart?
Some admit as much. As Christian MMA champion, Scott ‘Bam Bam’ Sullivan conceded, “fighting just didn’t jibe with my prayer life”; MMA bouts, he said, “foster a brutal mind-set.”
Gordon Marino, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and a professional boxing coach, has written extensively on boxing, and, more recently, MMA. He interviewed boxing champion (and devout Christian) Manny Pacquiao, and introduced the theological dilemma: is boxing (MMA) sinful? Marino recalled:
Before a recent bout, I pressed Pacquiao about the apparent conflict between his devotion to the God-man who insisted that we turn the other cheek and his concussive craft. There was a silence. I was worried that I stepped over the line and said, “I’m sorry if I offended you with that question.” The Pac Man responded, “No it is a good question. I think it is wrong that we try to hurt one another, but I also think that God will forgive us (him and his opponent) because it is our calling.” I could have pushed, “But why would God give you a calling that was sinful?” but instead I back peddled and left it at that – that is, at ambivalence.
Yet for other religious boxers and Christian MMA fighters, the ambivalence is lost. Pastor John Renken is a modern-day muscular Christian and founder of a Nashville church called Xtreme Ministries. MMA, he argues, acts as a manly expression of devotion. It’s a place “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.”
Corey Thomas works on a client at A New You barbershop in Inglewood, Calif., on March 9, 2018. (Heidi de Marco/California Healthline). Photos by Heidi de Marco
Amid the buzz of hair clippers and the beat of hip-hop, barber Corey Thomas squeezes in a little advice to the clients who come into his Inglewood, Calif., shop for shaves and fade cuts. Watch what you eat, he tells them. Check your blood pressure. Don’t take life so hard.
“We’re a high statistic for … hypertension and everything, and it’s something we let go by,” Thomas said as he worked at the shop, A New You. “Our customers, they’ll talk to us before they talk to anybody else.”
And that can be good for their health. Thomas, who himself has high blood pressure, helped lead a group of customers as part of a study recently pubished in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that providing information and inviting a pharmacist onsite can go a long way toward helping black men reduce their blood pressure.
The group, which met for about a year in 2016, included a once-a-week visit from the pharmacist, who prescribed blood pressure medicine and followed up with the customers to make sure they were taking it. A blood pressure machine installed in the barbershop sent patients’ readings directly to their doctors and to the pharmacist.
A New You barbershop in Inglewood, Calif., was part of a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center medical study to reduce blood pressure in black barbershops. (Heidi de Marco/California Healthline)
Researchers found that after six months, the men who received both the education from their barbers and the drug therapy from the pharmacists were more likely to see their blood pressure drop to a healthier level and remain under control than the comparison group that received only information and encouragement to see their doctors.
Nearly two-thirds of the men who got the drug therapy achieved a healthy blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg, while only about 12 percent of the second group did.
“We all expected the intervention to be effective, but I don’t think any of us could have predicted the magnitude of the effect we ultimately saw,” said pharmacist Ciantel Adair Blyler, one of the co-authors of the study, who visited 10 different barbershops in Inglewood, Compton, Bellflower, and Long Beach. She went to each shop once a week for a year to see patients, she said.
A team of pharmacists, along with physicians from several medical centers in Southern California, conducted the study at 52 Los Angeles-area barbershops with an $8.5 million federal grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
A blood pressure monitor sits in the corner of A New You. Thomas says clients use it regularly to check their blood pressure. (Heidi de Marco/California Healthline)
Each of the 319 barbershop clients in the study had hypertension, defined as an average systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher (that’s the maximum pressure exerted on the arteries when the heart is pushing blood through the body). They were randomly assigned to an intervention group or a control group.
Uncontrolled hypertension is one of the biggest health problems facing the African-American community, health officials say. It affects blacks more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 43 percent of black men have high blood pressure, compared to 34 percent of white men and 28 percent of Mexican Americans, CDC data show.
Stress related to racial discrimination, mistrust of the medical system and less frequent use of health care services and medications, are some of the reasons why African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, according to the CDC. Undetected hypertension can lead to heart and kidney damage as well as strokes and heart attacks.
Blyler said she and the team understood the mistrust, which is why they chose barbershops, traditionally a common venue for community gatherings in black neighborhoods.
“When you meet people where they are, there is a different level of trust and respect that’s earned,” Blyler said. “I think that’s why this intervention was ultimately so successful.”
Thomas participated in a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center study to reduce blood pressure in black barbershops. (Heidi de Marco/California Healthline)
But there were still some challenges gaining the trust of the barbershop patrons, Blyler observed.
Thomas participated in a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center study to reduce blood pressure in black barbershops. (Heidi de Marco/California Healthline)
“The hurdle we had to get over was getting them to trust me, to trust that the medication I was prescribing was good for them, that it wasn’t an experiment and I wasn’t somehow financially benefiting from drug companies,” she said.
Once she earned their trust, the men were not shy about sharing their health history, Blyler said. “Many openly admitted to not going to see their doctors for long periods despite knowing they had high blood pressure and other untreated conditions.”
The Los Angeles study was led by Dr. Ronald Victor, a cardiovascular physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who secured the $8.5 million grant to study LA’s black-owned barbershops.
Thomas, the barber at A New You, agreed to participate in the study and help his clients check their blood pressure.
“One day one of the pharmacists asked me, ‘what about you?’” Thomas recounted. “I’m like, ‘Nah. I’m all right.’ … I’d been on high blood pressure medicine for like two years then. I said ‘I don’t like it. It’s messing my body up.’”
Thomas, 49, who had suffered a stroke six years before, said the pills he was taking made him feel sluggish. The pharmacist assigned to A New You was persistent. “They asked me about my lifestyle, how I ate and everything — as opposed to my doctor. He didn’t ask me nothing,” Thomas said.
The pharmacist changed his medicine, the blood pressure machine was moved in, and Thomas — as well as his patrons — started to listen.
With a little golf he plays now, and some changes in his diet, Thomas said his systolic blood pressure is down to 129. “I feel great,” he said, adding that “it’s also fulfilling” to help his customers control their blood pressure as well.
Even though the study is over, Thomas still talks to his customers about hypertension. And the blood pressure machine is still there for anyone to use.
Thomas said efforts like these can help change long-ingrained habits among African-American men.
“A lot of us use the emergency room as doctors,” he said. “So I think [these] studies will help out a great deal.”
When you see a man walking down the street talking to himself, what is your first thought? Most likely it’s, “He is crazy!” What about the lady at the bus stop yelling strange phases? You immediately become guarded and move as far away from her as possible. I know you’ve done it. We all have.
We are so quick to judge others on the surface level without taking the time to think that maybe God is placing us in a situation for a reason. Maybe it is a test and in order to pass, you must show love and compassion for something or someone that you do not understand.
Perhaps the man or woman you judge are suffering from a mental illness. However, do not be deceived by appearances, because mental illness does not have “a look.”
More Than What Meets The Eye
When most people look at me, they see a successful, 20-something-year-old woman who is giving of herself and her time. In the past, they would only see a bubbly, out-going, praying and saved young lady who is grounded in her faith. When outsiders look at me, they often see someone with two degrees from two of America’s most prestigious institutions, an entrepreneur who prides herself on inspiring others to live life on purpose, and simply lets her light shine despite all obstacles.
However, what so many do not know is that there was a time when I was dying on the inside. On a beautiful summer morning, at the tender age of 25, I suddenly felt sick. It was not the kind of sick where one is coughing with a fever and chills. I felt as if there were a ton of bricks on top of my body and I could not move my feet from the bed to the floor.
Then, there were times when I was unable to stop my mind from racing. I had a hard time concentrating on simple tasks and making decisions. My right leg would shake uncontrollably and I would get so overwhelmed by my mind.
It was in those moments when I inspired to begin researching depression and anxiety. I had the following thoughts as I read the symptoms: “This sounds like me. But, if I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety, does this mean I am no longer grounded in my faith? Would I walk around claiming something that the Christians deemed as not being a “real” disease? Am I speaking this illness into existence?”
NAMI also describes anxiety as chronic and exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks.
As the months passed, my symptoms became progressively worse and I became so numb to life. I slowly began to open up to my church family and some of the responses I received were so hurtful. I received a variety of suggestions on everything from speaking in tongues for 20 minutes to avoiding medication because it would make my condition worse.
As a result, I did not know what to do. I felt lost and alone, because a community that I turned to first in my time of trial and tribulation did not understand me. I was so deep in my depression that praying and reading my Bible was too difficult of a task to complete.
As time went on, I eventually went to the doctor and guess what? I was right. I went undiagnosed for over 10 years. Imagine the consequences if a person with cancer, AIDS/HIV or diabetes went undiagnosed.
The Breaking Point
I eventually found myself in the hospital after a friend called 911 to notify them of my suicide attempt. I was so removed from life that when the doctor asked me the day of the week and date, I could not tell him.
Honestly, I can tell you a number of reasons why I tried to commit suicide. Some of them were external factors, such as finances. Some of it was burn-out. Some of it was unresolved childhood issues and genetics.
However, after learning my family medical history, I discovered that several members of my family battled mental illness during their lifetime. Both of my parents battled mental illness, and my grandfather informed me about the time he tried to commit suicide at the age of 14. My uncle was admitted to the hospital due to schizophrenia.
A Bright Future
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. God has placed amazing people in my life from family members, friends who are simply extended family, doctors, therapists, and medication.
While my goal is not to rely on medication for the rest of my life, I am grateful that I found something that works while I work through recovery. Looking back to where I was about two years ago, I would have never saw myself living life with depression and anxiety.
I believe in the power of prayer and God’s word. As the scripture states in James 2:17, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” This leads me to believe that no matter how difficult the situation is, I will have to work towards healing and recovery even though I have a strong foundation and faith.
Do you have words of encouragement for someone who is battling mental illness? Share your thoughts below.