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Originally published December 17, 2010 at 3:28 PM | Page modified December 20, 2010 at 4:39 PM

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Guest columnist

A mission to promote health and wellness

CHURCHES have a long, rich history of advocating for health that is not as widely known as their history of social justice and civil rights...

Special to The Times

Embrace a healthier lifestyle

Read more about Communities Putting Prevention to Work at: www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/partnerships/cppw.aspx

More on "Moving Together in Faith and Health" at: www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/partnerships/cppw/whosinvolved/uwnursing.aspx

CHURCHES have a long, rich history of advocating for health that is not as widely known as their history of social justice and civil rights activism. Many African Americans, other people of color, and those struggling to pay for the daily necessities often seek health support through church institutions.

Now six local churches are on the threshold of creating a legacy of health and wellness throughout the community by first doing the necessary work within their own programs. The collaboration's mission is to reduce chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes in children and youth through obesity prevention. Public Health — Seattle & King County was awarded federal stimulus grants as part of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Communities Putting Prevention to Work. The University of Washington School of Nursing applied for and received some of this funding to support "Moving Together in Faith and Health" — a 20-month effort that also includes the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

Churches are vital institutions where environments and policies can directly affect those who bear the heaviest burden of poor health. "Moving Together in Faith and Health" brings influential leaders together from various denominations. The process involves thorough and inclusive community engagement by assessing and improving the nutrition and physical activity environments in six Central and Southeast Seattle churches first, and then sharing those changes with surrounding neighborhoods.

Together, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, New Direction Missionary Baptist Church and Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church can reach more than 2,000 families with nearly 50 annual events and more than 30 programs focused on children and youth.

One concern is the access our children and youth have to junk food and soda through our own church-sponsored programs. But this is changing and must change. High-fat, high-sugar foods are fine on occasion, but have no place in regular church programs and activities.

Several studies indicate the risk of childhood obesity increases with each additional serving of soda consumed. We are looking within our church environments to adopt voluntary nutrition and physical-activity guidelines and standards in all of our programs but especially those serving children and youth.

One month into the project, Goodwill Baptist Church eliminated its soda machine and increased availability to water, tea and lower-calorie drinks. New Direction Missionary Baptist Church decommissioned its soda machine. Church and community leaders cannot be complicit as our own children suffer the early impacts of chronic disease and companies benefit from the poor health of our members.

"Moving Together in Faith in Health" establishes these six churches as local and national models for church-based environmental change to promote healthy eating and physical activity. It's about spreading the word while we work to make more healthful choices available to our kids and our families. Our hope is that these healthy norms and habits established in our churches will be reinforced at home.

The churches are encouraged by local elected leaders. In his letter of support during the grant application process, state Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, wrote, that he is "thrilled that many churches are taking the lead in promoting the good health of their members, including reducing the availability of soda and other sugary drinks at church — obesity is such a tough problem, and I applaud all and any efforts to combat it."

We challenge others to change with us to promote the health of children and youth, especially during this holiday season. If you donate to church-sponsored programs, provide us with nutritious offerings. For example, supply us with fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat foods, products with no added sugar, and no-sodium or reduced-sodium products.

Send to our church tables and donation facilities the best that you would offer to your own families. Be inspired by us to act justly on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society — our children.

Together, we can make changes that will improve the health of our children and youth. Let's be the change and be challenged to change together!

James Kelly, left, is president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. Bishop Garry Tyson is senior pastor at Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church.

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