Faith Leaders Preach Healthful Living

By Kevin Eisenmann on April 01, 2013

Every Sunday, Pastor Arelious Walker stands at the pulpit at True Hope Church in Bayview and issues the same challenge to his congregation: Walk with me. He’s not speaking in religious terms.

Weekday evenings, ‘Walker’s Walkers’ — as neighbors call the strolling assembly —take to the streets to get some exercise.

It is one of many activities inspired by the Abundant Life Health Ministries Initiative, a program developed by the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center to eliminate health disparities of minority populations and promote research-tested interventions through faith communities.

“This is a way to translate evidence-based interventions into the community,” said Rena J. Pasick, DrPH, associate director of community education and outreach at the cancer center. “A major focus of UCSF and the National Institutes of Health is the translation into practice of scientific developments.

“The church occupies a central place in the lives of African Americans,” said Pasick. “Public health practitioners, researchers and policymakers recognize this role, and are increasingly seeking to partner with church leaders and members to address health disparities in the African American community.”

“The Cancer Center is deeply committed to the elimination of cancer disparities, said Pasick. “We started Abundant Life because the most pronounced disparities occur among African Americans.”

Body & Soul, another intervention that has been tested nationally, encourages churches to adopt healthy changes in food policies and invite health professionals to speak with the congregation. Wilma Batiste, chair of the faith communities committee, said that the programs are working.

At Neighborhood Baptist Church, this effort has included a morning buffet of fruits and vegetables that Batiste says is very well-received. Fried chicken has not made an appearance in the church in four years, she added.

“I’ve actually seen that there’s been a lifestyle change,” Batiste said. “Our members are moving more. They’re healthier.”