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Return to Faith to Promote Heart-Healthy Habits Overview

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Return to Faith to Promote Heart-Healthy Habits Overview

More on Faith to Promote Heart-Healthy Habits

Faith to Promote Heart-Healthy Habits

NEW YORK (Jul 1, 2013)

Heart Smarts Program graduates with diplomas
Graduates from a 2013 HeartSmarts program. Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey is on the right in a light blue jacket. Dr. Holly Andersen is on the left in a gray jacket.

A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, engaging in regular exercise, and protecting one's heart are messages in HeartSmarts, a faith-based program teaching heart health. This program was created by Holly S. Andersen, M.D., Director of Education and Outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

"I started this program after testifying in front of our city council on the state of heart disease in New York City," said Dr. Andersen. "The majority of the city council members present were from underserved communities – primarily Hispanic and African-American. They said, 'I go to my church for fish fry every Friday night and stay after service for fried chicken every Sunday.' I immediately thought, that's where we need to go. We need to teach parishioners how to make those recipes healthier and then we can change generations," she said.

The goal of HeartSmarts is to train church leaders about heart health and then have them train their congregations. Leaders attend three-hour classes once a week for 12 weeks and are taught by Naa-Solo Tettey, Ed.D., M.P.H., C.H.E.S., the Cardiovascular Health Education and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Perelman Heart Institute. After completing the program, leaders are asked to teach two 10-week sessions to their parishioners each year and to include information on heart-healthy habits in church bulletins, sermons, health fairs, and handouts around the church.

"Many programs claim to be faith based when in reality they are only faith placed, meaning they are taught in churches but do not incorporate spiritual beliefs, religion, or scriptures. Thanks to Dr. Tettey, who placed the scriptures into our curriculum, our program is truly faith-based," said Dr. Andersen.

HeartSmarts curriculum covers risk factors for heart disease (e.g., hypertension, cholesterol, stress, diabetes, and depression) and how to modify these risk factors. Other topics include eating healthy on a budget, exercising if you don't have access to a gym, and the importance of sleep.

In Dr. Tettey's experience, lack of education is the biggest barrier to motivating people to lower their risk for heart disease. "A lot of people are diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension and don't understand what this diagnosis means. After they take this class, they are empowered to speak more knowledgably about their own health and are able to make conscious choices."

"As a physician and cardiologist, I see how we are developing great technologies and medications to treat cardiovascular disease, but we are losing the battle with preventing it. It's like mopping the floor with the faucet wide open," said Dr. Andersen. "Doctors only get to speak to the patients who come to us and, given the increasing time constraints during office visits, discussions of prevention are not occurring. I felt compelled to try to do more."

For more information on the HeartSmarts program, contact Dr. Tettey at

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