An article in the Times last week caught my eye, about a minister in Mississippi who has created health diet changes in his parishioners by not only educating families on the importance of changing their nutritional habits, but by making it easier to do so by engaging them in cooking and preparing meals together. He also helped create organized team exercising, by creating a track around his church for his congregation to use.
Churches can be great places to implement behavior change and health education programs. For most people, their church is a social network already comprised on those with similar values, making them more like to be supportive of their efforts to make healthier decisions. It also eliminates a lot of the stress and anxiety associated with getting started on a new diet and exercise plan, since these folks weren’t embarking on these changes solo - they were doing it together.
Ministers play a unique role in communities, one of leadership and inspiration, and are often in a unique position to supplement health messages with a moral spin, something that may help people jump-start their healthier lifestyles. By emphasizing that health impacts one’s family, and therefore one’s community, many in these congregations begin to see new habits as imperative to their roles as leaders in their own right. Another great step Rev. Minor has taken is to encourage the use of ”health ambassadors” in each church that is a member of the National Baptist Convention. This not only adds accountability, which can be a great motivator, but these ambassadors can connect with other churches, share diet and exercise tips, and expand the community of change exponentially - turning a small idea into a movement.
I’ve written about the importance of social support in aiding healthy behavior change before, particularly in regards to getting screened for preventable diseases, and this is a great example of how effective it can be.