The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church is partnering with the Prevention Research Center at the University of South Carolina to offer “Faith, Activity and Nutrition” – a free faith-based program that works to create a healthy church environment.
FAN is not an exercise program or a cooking class. Instead, FAN helps churches create an environment conducive to physical activity and healthy eating. FAN training will be held in all UMC districts in April/May 2017. Churches must enroll in FAN by Feb. 28 if they would like to attend training.
UMC volunteers, trained in the FAN program, will work with church committees to help them make changes to their church environment. For example, church leaders learn how to build physical activity into regular church activities. They also help church cooks modify recipes and menus to make traditional foods healthier – such as baked chicken instead of fried – and encourage them to switch to more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Churches also are encouraged to prepare or choose meals and snacks that have less sodium and less fat. Churches receive materials they can share with members, and they receive monthly phone calls to help make and sustain changes.
“Our state has among the highest rates of health conditions like hypertension and diabetes,” said Sara Wilcox, a UMC member who leads the program at USC. “These conditions can be prevented and controlled through physical activity and healthy eating.
“Due to the UMC’s size and embracement of community outreach, FAN has so much potential to improve the health of members and their communities in a way that is consistent with scripture.”
FAN complements The United Methodist Church’s Abundant Health initiative, which promotes activities that support children’s health – both globally and in our communities. Both efforts are expressions of our respect for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit through which we honor God. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Just as we promise to make children’s health a priority as a practice of our congregations, we should pledge to change how we think about and act on our own health and encourage each other to stay active and make healthier nutritional choices.
“The General Church is challenging at least 10,000 churches to commit to this work of promoting healthy bodies, minds and spirits,” said the Rev. Kathy James, director of connectional ministries for the S.C. Conference. “The FAN leadership at USC and the Abundant Health leadership at the General Board of Global Ministries have been in conversation about how to work collaboratively to resource local churches for this work.
“In South Carolina, local churches have an opportunity to make a life-giving difference in their communities using the resources of FAN and the General Church.”
Wilcox and her colleagues from USC’s Arnold School of Public Health developed and tested the FAN program in partnership with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. As part of the project, leaders from 74 AME churches were trained to build in opportunities, messages and pastor support for physical activity and healthier food choices.
The researchers found that members from trained churches were more likely to engage in physical activity and eat more fruits and vegetables than members from churches that did not undergo the training. The findings of the study are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“We were very encouraged by the findings,” said Wilcox, who led the research. “Even very small changes can translate to significant and meaningful public health effects. We are eager to now work across the state with the UMC.”
South Carolina consistently ranks near the bottom nationwide in overall health. African Americans, those from rural areas, and those with lower levels of education are even more likely to develop – and die from – chronic health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure than whites, people from nonrural areas, and those with higher levels of education.
“Churches are natural partners to help eliminate health disparities,” Wilcox said. “For many, especially in the South, the church is the center of their life and is a trusted institution.”
The S.C. Conference encourages its churches to enroll in the program and start down the path to a healthier church. FAN enrollment will close Feb. 28, 2017.
For more information about FAN and how to enroll your church and begin working toward creating a church environment that is supportive of health, click here or call project coordinator Jessica Stucker at 803-576-5992.