Salvation for Unhealthy Diets

Hallelujah! Could church be the answer to weight loss?

By Camille Chatterjee, published January 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Churchgoers hoping to improve their eating habits may now look to their place of worship for help.

Marci Campbell, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has developed a nutritional program designed to be implemented in churches. It's dubbed the "5-a-Day" program after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's suggestion that people consume at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Statistics show that for African-Americans in North Carolina, the risk of cancer--especially forms, such as colon cancer, which are influenced by eating habits--is increasing. So Campbell recruited 50 predominantly African-American churches there and instituted her program in half of them. She gave each member of the participating congregations printed materials on how to eat a healthful diet; involved them in so-called "enabling" activities, such as growing community vegetable gardens; and set up "reinforcing" activities, providing the churches with health advisers and asking pastors to preach about nutritional issues. A year later, she reports in the American Journal of Public Health, the intervention group consumed one more daily serving of fruit than before, and two years later, 33% met the 5-a-Day goal, compared to 23% at the study's start.

Non-churchgoers may want to look to places they frequent, such as work, to institute a similar program. But people seem to have better luck learning good nutrition in church. Explains Campbell: "Churches are stable over a longer period of time. They have stronger social networks. They're a wonderful place to create change."