Southern Churches Lead Campaign to Fight Obesity

Several Baptist churches throughout the south are beginning campaigns in order to help their congregations be healthier.

Obesity has become increasingly common within the faith-based communities and many feel the church is the prime location to start urging people to begin taking care of their bodies.

Pastor Michael Minor, head of a Mississippi church is one such person. He began a health movement at his church by banning fried chicken from congregation events. Church chefs now prepare baked and grilled chicken and soda has also been banned, replaced with water and Crystal Light.

Minor who has been an advocate of health in churches for over 10 years has also had a walking track set up in his church's parking lot.

"Our bodies are not our own. They're a gift from God," he said. "We should do a better job with our bodies."

A Northwestern University study published in March linked church involvement with higher instances of obesity in young people. It detailed that people between the ages of 20 and 32 who attended a church event at least once a week were more likely to have a BMI of 30 or more by the time they reached middle age.

With obesity being a rampant and continuing problem in the United States even without the church connection, health officials are looking at the initiatives being lead by church leaders as a positive step in combating the nation-wide epidemic.

Director of the Office of Preventive Health for the Mississippi state health department, Victor Sutton notes that pastors have a significant influence on their congregation.

"Sometimes you can have a doctor tell someone something, and they'll blow it off," he said. "A pastor can tell someone what to do, and they'll take it as a scientific fact."

Pastor Charles Flowers who heads a the Faith Outreach Center International in San Antonio, Texas, used this advantage to begin a 100-day weight-loss challenge between several church's throughout San Antonio and Austin; stating that religion is not just about the spirit.

"The gospel is a gospel of spirit, soul and body," he said. "We pay a lot of attention to the spirit side and very little attention to the body side."

In continuing efforts to spread the message of health beyond his own congregation, Minor plans to set up an alliance of health advocates to assist congregations within the National Baptist Convention in starting health initiatives in their own churches.