Controlling diabetes with help from a higher power

November 25, 2014

Dr. Heather Kitzman-Ulrich and Leilani Dodgen

Religious faith promotes spiritual health, but can it also influence physical well-being?

That’s a question UNT Health Science Center researchers seek to answer by teaming with pastors at churches in southern Dallas County to test the effectiveness of obesity and diabetes prevention curriculums that include faith-based components.

The five-year project focuses on African-American women because statistics show they are more likely to be overweight and have diabetes than Caucasian women. They also are much more likely to call their church a major influence in their lives, studies show.

"We hypothesized that if we included some faith-based concepts and involved their pastor, that this might improve their motivation and lead to better outcomes," said Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, PhD, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Community Health and Principal Investigator.

An advisory group of pastors and their wives helped write a 16-week curriculum that integrated faith-based elements with the Diabetes Prevention Program. The curriculum includes pastor-delivered sermons that integrate objectives of each week’s program curriculum, scripture included in participant and facilitator materials, prayer, and take-home faith activities.

To measure success, researchers will track participants’ weight, waistline, blood lipids, estrogen and cortisol levels, and diet, among other things, Project Manager Leilani Dodgen said. Those measurements will then be compared to those of participants in identical diabetes prevention courses that do not include faith-based elements.

Twelve churches will participate in the project, which was funded by a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Health and conducted by the Texas Center for Health Disparities within UNTHSC. Rev. George King of Cities of Refuge-Dallas, who helped write the curriculum, said that he believes the involvement of churches will help participants stay motivated.

"Our goal is not to make this feel like a program they are going through, but a lifestyle change they are making with the support of their pastors and fellow church members," he said.

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology
Dr. Diana Cervantes named among Fort Worth’s ‘most influential’ for public health service during the pandemic

By Sally Crocker Dr. Diana Cervantes has spent the last year keeping people informed and updated on all things coronavirus, and now she’s being recognized as one of Fort Worth Inc.’s “400 Most Influential People” for helping protect the community’s health during the pandemic. Dr....Read more

Jun 8, 2021

Opal Lee photo by Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Celebrating Juneteenth

By Diane Smith-Pinckney On June 19 1865, Major General Gordan Granger marched into Galveston with a critical message: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”  This was the opening se...Read more

Jun 8, 2021

Dr. Scott Walters
The realities of ‘breaking bad’ and how one HSC researcher is attacking the opioid crisis

By Sally Crocker He didn’t know it at the time, but when Dr. Scott Walters was growing up in San Diego in the mid 1980s, a next-door neighbor was concealing a homemade meth lab just across the fence and mere steps away from his bedroom window. For quite some time, concerned parents in his fa...Read more

Jun 8, 2021

MET Building at UNTHSC
HSC Health Diabetes Education Service Merits ADA Recognition

The prestigious American Diabetes Association (ADA) Education Recognition Certificate for a quality diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) service was recently awarded to the HSC Health Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Program. ADA believes that this service offers high...Read more

Jun 8, 2021