Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 1411–1425 | Cite as

Disease Messaging in Churches: Implications for Health in African-American Communities

  • Brook E. Harmon
  • Marci Chock
  • Elizabeth Brantley
  • Michael D. Wirth
  • James R. Hébert
Original Paper


Using the right messaging strategies, churches can help promote behavior change. Frequencies of disease-specific messages in 21 African-American churches were compared to overall and cancer-specific mortality and morbidity rates as well as church-level variables. Disease messages were found in 1025 of 2166 items. Frequently referenced topics included cancer (n = 316), mental health conditions (n = 253), heart disease (n = 246), and infectious diseases (n = 220). Messages for lung and colorectal cancers appeared at low frequency despite high mortality rates in African-American communities. Season, church size, and denomination showed significant associations with health messages. Next steps include testing messaging strategies aimed at improving the health of churchgoing communities.


Disease prevention African Americans Health communication 



This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Center on Minority and Health and Health Disparities Grant No. 1R24MD002769-01, an Established Investigator Award in Cancer Prevention and Control from the Cancer Training Branch of the National Cancer Institute to J. R. Hébert (K05 CA136975), and support from a National Cancer Institute Cancer Education and Career Development Program for B. E. Harmon (R25 CA098566).


  1. American Cancer Society. (2014). Cancer awareness calendar 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from
  2. American Society of Hematology. (2011). September is national sickle cell awareness month. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from
  3. Armstrong, K., McMurphy, S., Dean, L. T., Micco, E., Putt, M., Halbert, C. H., et al. (2008). Differences in the patterns of health care system distrust between blacks and whites. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 23(6), 827–833.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Austin, A., & Harris, G. (2010). Addressing health disparities: The role of an African American Health Ministry Committee. Social Work in Public Health, 26(1), 123–135. doi: 10.1080/10911350902987078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baruth, M., Wilcox, S., Laken, M., Bopp, M., & Saunders, R. (2008). Implementation of a faith-based physical activity intervention: Insights from church health directors. Journal of Community Health, 33, 304–312.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bergamo, C., Lin, J. J., Smith, C., Lurslurchachai, L., Halm, E. A., Powell, C. A., et al. (2013). Evaluating beliefs associated with late-stage lung cancer presentation in minorities. Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 8, 12–18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, M. K., Hudson, M. A., Resnicow, K., Blakeney, N., Paxton, A., & Baskin, M. (2007). Church-based health promotion interventions: Evidence and lessons learned. Annual Review of Public Health, 28, 213–234.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, M. K., James, A., Hudson, M. A., Carr, C., Jackson, E., Oates, V., et al. (2004). Improving multiple behaviors for colorectal cancer prevention among African American church members. Health Psychology, 23(5), 492–502.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Carpenter, C. (2010). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of health belief model variables in predicting behavior. Health Communication, 25, 661–669. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2010.521906.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Carroll, J. (2006). God’s Potters. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  11. Carter-Edwards, L., Hooten, E. G., Bruce, M. A., Toms, F., Lloyd, C. L., & Ellison, C. (2012). Pilgrimage to wellness: An exploratory report of rural African American clergy perceptions of church health promotion capacity. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 40, 194–207. doi: 10.1080/10852352.2012.680411.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Carter-Edwards, L., Jallah, Y. B., Goldmon, M. V., Roberson Jr, J. T., & Hoyo, C. (2006). Key attributes of health ministries in African American Churches: An exploratory survey. North Carolina Medical Journal, 67(5), 345–350.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system: Prevalence and trends data South Carolina. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Fact Sheet: CDC health disparities and inequalities reportU.S., 2011, Atlanta, GA. Retrieved from www.cdc/gov/mmwr.
  15. DeHaven, M. J., Hunter, I. B., Wilder, L., Walton, J. W., & Berry, J. (2004). Health programs in faith-based organizations: Are they effective? American Journal of Public Health, 94(6), 1030–1036.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Foster, M. L., Arnold, E., Rebchook, G., & Kegeles, S. M. (2011). ‘It’s my inner strength’: Spirituality, religion and HIV in the lives of young African American men who have sex with men. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 13(9), 1103–1117. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2011.600460.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Gordon, J. (2002). Beyond knowledge: Guidelines for effective health promotion messages. Journal of Extension, 40(6).
  18. Green, B. L., Lewis, R. K., Wang, M. Q., Person, S., & Rivers, B. (2004). Powerlessness, destiny, and control: The influence on health behaviors of African Americans. Journal of Community Health, 29(1), 15–27.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Griffith, K. A., Passmore, S. R., Smith, D., & Wenzel, J. (2012). African Americans with a family history of colorectal cancer: Barriers and facilitators to screening. Oncology Nursing Forum, 39(3), 299–306.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hankerson, S. H., & Weissman, M. M. (2012). Church-based health programs for mental disorders among African Americans: A review. Psychiatric Services, 63, 243–249. doi: 10.1176/ Scholar
  21. Harmon, B. E., Blake, C. E., Armstead, C. A., & Hebert, J. R. (2013). Intersection of identities. Food, role, and the African-American pastor. Appetite, 67, 44–52. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.03.007.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Harmon, B. E., Blake, C. E., Thrasher, J. F., & Hebert, J. R. (2014a). An evaluation of diet and physical activity messaging in African American churches. Health Education and Behavior, 41(2), 216–225. doi: 10.1177/1090198113507449.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Harmon, B. E., Kim, S.-H., Blake, C. E., & Hebert, J. R. (2014b). Health care information in African American churches. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 25(1), 242–256. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2014.0047.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Hebert, J. R., Wirth, M., Davis, L., Davis, B., Harmon, B. E., Hurley, T. G., et al. (2013). C-reactive protein levels in African Americans. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(4), 430–440. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.05.011.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. Hegwer, L. R. (2013). A faith-based, data-driven partnership to improve community health. Retrieved from Healthcare Financial Management Association website:
  26. James, A. S., Campbell, M. K., & Hudson, M. A. (2002). Perceived barriers and benefits to colon cancer screening among African Americans in North Carolina: How does perception relate to screening behavior? Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 11, 529–534.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Luque, J. S., Tyson, D. M., Markossian, T., Lee, J., Turner, R., Proctor, S., et al. (2011). Increasing cervical cancer screening in a Hispanic migrant farmworker community through faith-based clinical outreach. Journal of Lower Genital Tract Diseases, 15(3), 200–204. doi: 10.1097/LGT.0b013e318206004a.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mamiya, L. (2006). River of struggle, river of freedom: Trends among black churches and black pastoral leadership Pulpit and Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership. Durham, NC: Duke Divinity School.Google Scholar
  29. National Institutes of Health. (2013). Fact sheet: Health disparities. Retrieved from
  30. Pickard, J. G., Inoue, M., Chadiha, L. A., & Johnson, S. (2011). The relationship of social support to African American caregivers’ help-seeking for emotional problems. Social Service Review, 85(2), 246–265. doi: 10.1086/660068.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Rosenstock, I. M., Strecher, V. J., & Becker, M. H. (1988). Social learning theory and the health belief model. Health Education Quarterly, 15(2), 175–183.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Rowland, M. L., & Isaac-Savage, E. P. (2013). As I See It: A study of African American Pastors’ views on health and health education in the black church. Journal of Religion and Health,. doi: 10.1007/s10943-013-9705-2.Google Scholar
  33. Ruo, B., Rumsfeld, J. S., Hlatky, M. A., Liu, H., Browner, W. S., & Whooley, M. A. (2003). Depressive symptoms and health-related quality of life: The heart and soul study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290(2), 215–221.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Schiavo, R. (2014). Health communication: From theory to practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  35. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. (2009). SC Community Assessment Network: Cancer Incidence (1996–2009) and Cancer Mortality (1996–2009). Retrieved March 25, 2014, from
  36. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. (2010a). South Carolina 2009–2010 influenza season summary report. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from
  37. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. (2010b). South Carolina vital and morbidity statistics 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from
  38. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. (2011). South Carolina influenza surveillance report: 2010–2011 influenza season summary. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from
  39. Stewart, J. M., & Dancy, B. L. (2012). Factors contributing to the development of an HIV ministry within an African American Church. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 23(5), 419–430. doi: 10.1016/j.jana.2011.09.008.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Taylor, R. J., Ellison, C. G., Chatters, L. M., Levin, J. S., & Lincoln, K. D. (2000). Mental health services in faith communities: The role of clergy in black churches. Social Work, 45(1), 73–87.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Tu, H. T., & Cohen, G. R. (2008). Striking jump in consumers seeking health care information. Results from the community tracking study. Centers for Studying Health System Change.Google Scholar
  42. University of South Carolina—Cancer Prevention and Control Program. (n.d.). South Carolina cancer disparities community network. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from
  43. Wakefield, M. A., Laoken, B., & Hornik, R. C. (2010). Use of mass media campaigns to change health behavior. Lancet, 376, 1261–1271. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60809-4.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Watson, D. W., Bisesi, L., Tanamly, S., Sim, T., Branch, C. A., & Williams III, E. (2003). The role of small and medium-sized African-American churches in promoting healthy life styles. Journal of Religion and Health, 42(3), 191–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Whiters, D. L., Santibanez, S., Dennison, D., & Clark, H. W. (2010). A case study in collaboration with Atlanta-based African-American churches: A promising means for reaching inner-city substance users with rapid HIV testing. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 7, 103–114. doi: 10.1080/15433710903175981.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilcox, S., Laken, M., Bopp, M., Gethers, O., Huang, P., McClorin, L., et al. (2007). Increasing physical activity among church members community-based participatory research. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32(2), 131–138.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Williams, R. M., Glanz, K., Kegler, M. C., & Davis, E., Jr. (2009). A study of rural church health promotion environments: Leaders’ and members’ perspectives. Journal of Religion and Health, 51(1), 148–160. doi: 10.1007/s10943-009-9306-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yanek, L. R., et al. (2001). Project Joy: Faith based cardiovascular health promotion for African American women. Public Health Reports, 116(Suppl 1), 68–81. doi: 10.1093/phr/116.S1.68.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brook E. Harmon
    • 1
  • Marci Chock
    • 2
  • Elizabeth Brantley
    • 3
    • 4
  • Michael D. Wirth
    • 5
  • James R. Hébert
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public HealthUniversity of MemphisMemphisUSA
  2. 2.John A. Burns School of MedicineUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA
  3. 3.Southeastern Insurance Consultants, LLCColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Health Promotion, Education, and BehaviorUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  5. 5.Cancer Prevention and Control ProgramUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  6. 6.Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations