Background: The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church had worked together on several health-related projects prior to this initiative. A needs assessment completed in 2002 with a sample of AME members revealed that physical activity (PA) was low. The AME Planning Committee, a group comprising AME members, pastors, and presiding elders as well as members of academic institutions, identified PA as an important target for reducing health disparities. MUSC, the University of South Carolina, and the AME Planning Committee then collaborated on a proposal to CDC. All three organizations participated actively in the proposal and the subsequent project, although the church opted to have the two universities handle the grant funds.
Methods: A CBPR approach using a randomized design with a delayed intervention control group.
The Health-e-AME Faith-Based PA Initiative was a three-year project funded through a CDC CBPR grant. Because a traditional randomized controlled design was not acceptable to AME church leaders, a randomized design with a delayed-intervention control group was chosen instead.
Results: More than 800 volunteers from 303 churches participated in the program. Among survey respondents as a whole, PA did not increase significantly over time. However, 67% of respondents were aware of the program, and program awareness was significantly related to PA outcomes and to consumption of fruits and vegetables. Pastoral support was significantly associated with increased PA.
Comments: The successful partnership between the researchers and the AME church continues to this day through the newly formed FAN (Faith, Activity, and Nutrition) initiative. Those wishing to participate in partnerships between academic and faith-based organizations can glean useful information from Health-e-AME, including the process partnerships can use to develop, implement, and evaluate PA interventions. PA interventions that actively engage faith-based organizations in decision making and program implementation are rare, making this approach and the lessons learned unique.
Applications of Principles of Community Engagement: The researchers’ partnership with the AME church reflects Principle 3, which asks organizers of community engagement to establish relationships and work with existing leadership structures. The initiative was designed to increase participation in PA among adult members of the AME church community. All decisions are based on active input and approval from the AME church. In this way, the project is built on Principle 4, which stresses that those engaging a community cannot assume that they know what is best for the community. Instead, decision making must occur on a partnership basis that results in shared power and mutual understanding. This group collaboration also reflects Principles 1–5 by establishing relationships and trust, allowing community control, and developing partnerships for change. MUSC, the University of South Carolina, and the AME Planning Committee have collaborated throughout, beginning with the CDC application for a CBPR grant. Because the partners have worked together from the beginning of the grant proposal and all decisions have been made through active input, this program exemplifies many of the principles of community engagement.
Wilcox S, Laken M, Anderson T, Bopp M, Bryant D, Carter R, et al. The health-e-AME faith-based physical activity initiative: description and baseline findings. Health Promotion Practice 2007;8(1):69-78.
Wilcox S, Laken M, Bopp M, Gethers O, Huang P, McClorin L, et al. Increasing physical activity among church members: community-based participatory research. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2007;32(2):131-138.