Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches Stressing Health and Fitness

Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches Stressing Health and Fitness

Article excerpt

Larry Swain, a Pittsburgh minister, is happy that he's lost more than 50 pounds in a year and a half. He credits several factors, especially wanting very much to wear a smaller tuxedo at his daughter's wedding. A doctor's visit also showed his cholesterol and blood pressure were at unhealthy levels.

It didn't hurt to hear a pointed question from a guest speaker at his Pittsburgh Baptist Association meeting. "He asked me, 'Larry', what are you doing to take care of yourself?'" recalled Swain, executive minister of the association.

Spurred to slim down, Swain received a $300 "wellness grant" from the American Baptist Churches USA, which has asked its clergy to take better care of themselves. Some other denominations sponsor fitness walks or runs during their conventions. Books like Body by God have been best sellers.

Two newsmaking studies on obesity released in March prompted Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson to declare in a news conference that "our poor eating habits and lack of activity are literally killing us, and they're killing us at record levels." An analysis published March 10 by the Journal of the American Medical Association said deaths caused by poor diet and sedentary lifestyles rose by 33 percent from 1990 to 2000. Another study by the Band Corporation, based in Santa Monica, California, predicted that within 20 years obesity-related diseases will cancel out health strides made through medical advances.

With about 65 percent of Americans overweight, some denominations were already working to get clergy and congregants to lose the fat. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America hired a physician as a consultant three years ago. Dr. Gwen W. Halaas, dm ELCA's director of ministerial health and wellness, found that its ministers and lay leaders were more overweight than the average American and were more prone to he under stress, depressed and less physically active. Teaming with the Mayo Clinic, the ELCA created a Web site and newsletter focused on healthy living.

More than half of 6,000 clergy lay leaders and seminarians have responded to an online survey on health risks, she told the ELCA bishops in March. Figures from clergy' indicated a rise in cases of high choresterol, high blood pressure and cancer. …

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