In spite of (or perhaps because of) a study earlier this year that linked religious activity and weight gain, church leaders across the country are launching efforts to improve their congregations’ health. Their efforts aren’t always popular, but ministers say they want to do their part to inspire people to eat with more care. In fact, they’re trying to turn it into a theological message of sorts.
“Our bodies are not our own. They’re a gift from God,” said Mississippi pastor Michael Minor. “We should do a better job with our bodies.”
Other churches have banned fatty foods from social gatherings or instituted traditions like “Salad Sundays.” One San Antonio minister even created a weight-loss challenge for his flock. The challenge was not just focused on curbing eating, but on addressing the emotions that caused people to overeat.
In communities that revolve around a church, religious leaders can have a unique impact on people’s decisions. ”Sometimes you can have a doctor tell someone something, and they’ll blow it off,” said Victor Sutton of the Mississippi state health department. “A pastor can tell someone what to do, and they’ll take it as a scientific fact.”
It’s heartening to realize that pastors aren’t simply preaching against the sin of gluttony. Instead, they are changing the way their churches operate to encourage a healthier lifestyle, whether it’s discouraging fried foods at picnics or creating a walking track in the church parking lot.
Religious leaders are highly influential, and it’s good to see that they are getting involved with their congregations’ health in a way that does not involve guilt or shame. In the effort to fight obesity, it seems that perhaps churches should play a larger role.
Photo from Nick J. Webb via flickr.