Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 20, 1996

In Brief

Church-based programs help smokers quit

A government-funded study suggests that physicians who want patients to quit smoking for good might do well to recruit local churches as healthcare partners.

In a yearlong study among African Americans, Johns Hopkins researchers found that nearly twice as many smokers who received support from pastors and fellow parishioners made progress toward quitting as compared with those who got only a self-help pamphlet at their churches.

Hopkins preventive health specialists pioneered the concept of church-based health programs nearly 20 years ago. In 1989, Hopkins and East Baltimore black churches formed a partnership, and today 250 churches train pastors and members to promote medical compliance and lifestyle changes needed to treat and prevent heart disease, lung disease and stroke. Fifteen cities nationwide now have similar programs, said Diane M. Becker, senior author of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and is published in the May/June issue of Preventive Medicine.

"Our findings suggest that the best smoking-cessation program for urban African Americans is tailored not only to each person's stage but also culturally and spiritually based in churches," said Carolyn C. Voorhees, the study's lead author and an instructor of medicine.

"What's unique about this program is that many of the smokers originally didn't want to quit, but ended up making progress toward quitting just by being in church in a persuasive environment," Becker said. "That finding has incredibly important public health implications."

Ninety-two people received an anti-smoking pamphlet in their churches, while 199 people underwent an intensive program that included pastoral sermons, testimony during church services from people going through the program, counseling by specially trained volunteers, individual and group support, gospel music audiotapes and an anti-smoking booklet based on biblical passages that emphasize good health. The participants, who represented 21 churches, fell into one of five stages, ranging from not planning to quit to quitting and staying smoke-free.

After one year, researchers found that 20 percent of those in the intensive program quit smoking and 47 percent made progress toward quitting, while in the self-help program the rates were 15 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Also, 25 percent of the self-help group relapsed to earlier stages, compared with 17 percent in the intensive program. In both groups, most people who improved moved up one stage rather than several stages. Overall, progress was highest among Baptists in the spiritually oriented program, perhaps because they consider smoking to be a "sin," according to the study's authors.

"Our findings confirm that the church's cultural and spiritual norms make it an ideal place for health-promotion and disease-prevention programs," Voorhees said. "The spiritually oriented program emphasized giving yourself up to a higher power to allow the spirit to guide quitting rather than the usual method of taking control of yourself."

Earnings rise when lead poisoning is reduced

An updated analysis of earnings benefits from the School of Public Health shows that reducing lead exposure increases a child's earning potential 50 percent more than previous analyses have shown. Impaired cognitive ability--which affects a child's future earning power, standard of living and quality of life--has long been recognized as an important consequence of lead exposure.

Each year, approximately half a million American children are exposed to harmful levels of lead. The study results were reported in the July 1995 issue of Environmental Research, published this month.

David Salkever, professor, Health Policy and Management, reviewed earlier data from a 1994 study showing that reducing blood lead levels by 1 ug/dL (microgram per deciliter) increased the earning potential of children born in a single year by $5 billion. Using more recent data to reflect labor market changes, such as a greater number of women working and a growing wage gap between jobs with high and low cognitive demands, Salkever found that a 1 ug/dL reduction in blood lead levels was associated with $7.5 billion in increased wages, a 50 percent rise over the previous finding. He also found that the percentage earnings benefit for females was nearly twice as large as for males.

Faculty, staff can now get Hopkins vanity plates

Until recently, only alumni have been able to show their affection for Johns Hopkins by sporting university vanity license plates on their vehicles. Now, the folks at Alumni Relations are making the tags available to faculty and staff as well.

The new full-color plates cost $25 and can be ordered through Korkud Egrican or Patrick Russell in the Alumni Relations Office, at (410) 516-0363. They will send you a Motor Vehicle Administration form to complete and return with payment. Requests for specific tag numbers cannot be accommodated. Alumni with the original tags--which will no longer be produced--may continue to use them, or they can turn them in for the newer model.

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