Rural religious leaders' perspectives on their communities' health priorities and health

Nancy E. Schoenberg, Mark Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objectives: In traditionally underserved communities, faith-based interventions have been shown to be effective for health promotion. Religious leaders-generally the major partner in such interventions- however, are seldom are consulted about community health priorities and health promotion preferences. These insights are critical to ensure productive partnerships, effective programming, and sustainability. Methods: Mixed-methods surveys were administered in one of the nation's most under-resourced regions: rural Appalachia. A sample of 60 religious leaders, representing the main denominations in central Appalachia, participated. Measures included closed-and open-ended survey questions on health priorities and recommendations for health promotion. Descriptive statistics were used for closed-ended survey items and conventional qualitative content analysis was used for openended responses. Results: Substance abuse, diabetes mellitus, suboptimal dietary intake and obesity/overweight, and cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses constitute major health concerns. Addressing these challenging conditions requires realistically acknowledging sparse community resources (particularly healthcare provider shortages); building in accountability; and leveraging local assets and traditions such as testimonials, intergenerational support, and witnessing. Conclusions: With their extensive reach within the community and their accurate understanding of community health threats, practitioners and researchers may find religious leaders to be natural allies in health-promotion and disease-prevention activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-451
Number of pages5
JournalSouthern Medical Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 by The Southern Medical Association.


  • Faith-based interventions
  • Health promotion
  • Rural health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)


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