Health communication can show up in unlikely places.
Finding messages about healthy eating and weight loss in a church pew, for instance, might surprise the average academic. But it’s happening in a bastion of the Deep South, a geographic area known more for its sultry summers and lower socioeconomic status than for health-conscious church leaders.
A few years ago, one Mississippi pastor decided to start preaching a gospel of health, teaching his parishioners that eating low-fat, heart-healthy food is as important as showing up in the pew on Sunday. The New York Times and National Public Radio have covered the story of Reverend Michael Minor.
Since implementing a heart-healthy eating program with his own Oak Hill, Mississippi, congregation, he’s been asked by the National Baptist Convention to put together health and wellness plans for its 10,000 member churches. What’s the Reverend’s secret? Fighting the Sunday dinner tradition of fried-chicken and macaroni and cheese by creating “No Fry Zones” in church, replacing sweet tea with bottled water, even building a track around the church grounds for members to use for organized walks.
The Baptist Convention is calling the nationwide program Health Outreach and Prevention Education Initiative (H.O.P.E.), and in its materials explaining the program to members, it says, “We see a day when all National Baptist churches will have vibrant health and wellness ministries resulting in members being good stewards of their health and wellness.”