Journey to Health
Mount Zion Baptist Church leaders at a Moving Together in Faith & Health celebration in Seattle: from left, Rev. Aaron Williams, Senior Pastor; Stephen Riggins, former Co-Chair of Health and Counseling Ministry and Phase I Health Lead; Emma Cotton, Co-Lead; Dora Smith, Deacon and Phase II Health Lead; and Georgia S. McDade, Superintendent of Christian Education and Children and Youth Lead.
Seattle Churches Taking the Lead to Fight Obesity
With inspiration from the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative and support from the Recovery Act, six church congregations in the city of Seattle, WA, have began a journey to improve their members’ physical well-being and spiritual health.
Together, these six churches reach more than 9,000 predominantly African American Seattle community members, and they are each working under the belief that their proactive community health and wellness initiatives will result in healthier and stronger congregations and neighborhoods– in body and spirit. As it stands, nearly 59 percent of King County adults are overweight or obese, with obesity rates reaching disproportionately high levels among the county’s African Americans. More than 4,300 county residents die from heart disease, lung cancer, stroke and diabetes every year.
Under the “Moving Together in Faith & Health” program, the six churches involved put wellness policies in place that aim to correct this reality. They’ve made such changes as ensuring more healthy food and beverage options are offered at church events, planting church gardens, encouraging group walking, and introducing limits on time spent in front of computers and televisions at child and teen church programs.
Let’s Move: Faith and Communities National Initiative
The program is part of the “Let’s Move: Faith and Communities” national initiative that developed from First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. The churches’ efforts were supported by Public Health – Seattle & King County, one of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) sites that received Recovery Act-funded grants through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CPPW program is designed to fight obesity, prevent chronic disease and promote physical activity nationwide. The University of Washington School of Nursing applied for the funding from Public Health – Seattle & King County and coordinates these churches’ programs.
The churches involved in Moving Together in Faith & Health are:
Together, they reach more than 2,000 families—9,000 people—and they make a difference in nearly 50 food service events each year and more than 30 programs that focus on children and youth.
Goodwill Missionary Baptist, for example, has eliminated its soda machine and increased availability to water, tea and lower-calories beverages. New Direction Missionary Baptist decommissioned its soda machine and the Mount Zion Praise Dancers taught church leaders how to get their congregations physically active during services through praise dances. The churches also revised their menus to provide healthy choices, and congregants of all ages planted and harvested church gardens.
“As a result of Moving Together in Faith and Health and the healthy living policies we’ve adopted at Mount Zion Baptist Church, our children and youth are reaping the benefit of a healthier future,” said Rev. Aaron Williams, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist.
Counting on Each Other
An important aspect of the churches’ collective strategy is their focus on fostering wider neighborhood ties. For example, they have dedicated themselves to hosting the Seattle Wholesale Market, not only to provide nutritious foods to their congregations, but also to directly connect community restaurants, stores, hospitals, and schools with local farmers for an even broader impact on the health of their parishioners.
“I encourage all the churches in the community to take up this fight with us,” said Rev. Williams of Mount Zion. “If we are going to tackle this giant of chronic diseases and obesity, it’s going to take the whole village to do it.”
To learn more about Let’s Move: Faith and Communities see http://www.hhs.gov/partnerships/resources/Pubs/lets_move_toolkit.pdf.
For more information about the CDC’s national Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative, see http://www.cdc.gov/communitiesputtingpreventiontowork/ and for the Public Health – Seattle & King County program, go to www.kingcounty.gov/health/cppw.
For more information about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Recovery Act programs, see http://www.hhs.gov/recovery/programs/.