A wide number of inequalities in incomes, employment, educational achievement, policy, clinical systems, and food and physical activity environments exist in DC and are most apparent in Wards 5, 7, and 8, with high prevalence of poverty, higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other diet-related conditions. The faith-based institutions are trusted and are socially, physically, and spiritually embedded in the African American population in these wards and serve as social centers for DC residents multiple times a week. Numerous strong leaders from faith communities were interested in tackling the obesity concerns of their congregations, but they lacked the resources and technical assistance needed to establish wellness ministries and fully implement wellness programs in their places of worship.
Healthy Body, Healthy Spirit pilot project, supported by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, used faith-based health coordinators to engage the African-American faith community in nutrition and physical activity education program in Wards 5, 7, and 8 in Washington, DC. This model:
- Has commitment from senior leadership to be a catalyst in improving the health of their flock;
- Used a dietitian familiar with the cultural habits of this community, who trained the health coordinators and created the curriculum for training;
- Provided weekly technical assistance on class activities and on improvements to physical environment of the faith organization to enhance healthier food choices and more physical activity, utilizing the Wellness Guidance on Policies and Programs for the Faith Based Community;
- Taught health coordinators how to promote affordable, healthy meals and interactive healthy eating tools;
- Provided a portfolio of promotional flyers, messages for bulletin boards and sermons, and nutrition and physical activity resources to create an environment that promotes healthy eating, gardening, and physical activity in the faith-based community.
The Healthy Body, Healthy Spirit pilot project established an active wellness ministry with a trained health coordinator in five diverse DC faith-based institutions that implemented nutrition and physical activity curriculum and provided resources that promote and sustain wellness activities. Through the project, 106 individuals engaged in specific education programming on healthier shopping, cooking, eating practices, physical activity, and self-management from a trained health coordinator at their faith institution and additional congregants were educated through newsletters, bulletins, flyers, and additional outreach materials. Evaluations and recipe “reboot” cook-offs demonstrated improved healthy food choices and physical activity habits.