Churches Decide to Take on a Weighty Problem; African-American Congregations Having Contest

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Staff writer

It's a friendly competition with weighty consequences -- literally.

Twenty-six African-American churches from across Jacksonville have declared war on obesity by staging a contest to see whose members can shed the most pounds.

The winning pastor gets a free five-day cruise for two to the Caribbean.

The Rev. Mark Griffin, pastor of Wayman Chapel AME Church in the San Jose area, said he has long been concerned about the health of African-Americans.

"We preach from our pulpits about spiritual life, but we also need to preach about the health of our physical bodies," Griffin said.

So, he decided to challenge pastors in the African-American community to encourage their members to lose weight, practice good eating habits and exercise, he said. African-Americans are being targeted because they have a higher rate of hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes and other diseases associated with obesity, he said. Statistics also show their life expectancy is three years less than the average for whites.

Participants can learn about the campaign at a seminar at 10 a.m. today at Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 1462 Price St. They can register through Friday, April 30, and the contest will end at the end of July.

The campaign will be conducted over a 12-week period starting from a participant's registration date. It's being done in partnership with the Nirvana Clinic, a medical weight loss spa with offices on Baymeadows Road, San Juan Avenue and Lem Turner Road. The spa is conducting two free seminars to teach participants how to lose the weight and keep it off, said Wille Andre, the clinic's owner and a physician's assistant.

"We will give them a free diet plan, but they can lose the weight any healthy way they choose," Andre said. "They just can't stop eating."

Each church will have a coordinator who will take participants' weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and pulse each week. If participants have a condition such as diabetes, they will be asked about their blood sugar. If they prefer, they can be monitored at the clinic for a fee, Andre said. …