By Dr. Ed James
I recently heard a pastor describe the meal ritual of funerals at his church; a typical meal consisted of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, washed down with beverages like fruit punch.
Listening to the pastor talk, I couldn't help but think about how such meals would inevitably lead to the next funeral.
Our Diet Is Not Helping Us
Research now clearly demonstrates that eating certain foods substantially contributes to obesity, disease and premature death. Sadly, the diseases that kill the most African Americans (heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes) are very often preventable, simply through a proper diet and lifestyle. There are many delicious healthful recipe variations on traditional soul food (which is typically very high in saturated fats and sugar, clogging our arteries and raising our blood sugar).
So why aren't we adopting healthier eating habits, despite all this research, despite all the statistics, and despite all the preventable deaths? Many people, including myself, feel that we need to look to church leaders, and other trusted leaders, to help lead the way to better health.
Spiritual & Social Leaders: More Than a Century of Trust
For more than one hundred years, African Americans have embraced religious, civic and social organizations, including fraternities and sororities, as sources of support and friendship. To this day, church pastors and heads of such organizations are often viewed as revered community leaders.
The decisions of these leaders very often impact the lives of their members in a multitude of ways—spiritually, emotionally, and very likely, physically.
Smoking is a great example of the positive effects that leaders can have in the community: It is well known that cigarettes are harmful to our health. They contribute to early death, just like unhealthy eating habits. It was not long ago that cigarette smoking was socially acceptable at both meetings and social events sponsored by such organizations…but not anymore. Anyone would be scorned if he or she lit up a cigarette at a church, NAACP, or fraternity meeting these days.
Why? True, this is due, in part, to the fact that smoking is illegal at most indoor venues. But, this is not the only reason - organizational leaders also chose to impart knowledge to its members about the dangers of smoking, and many members chose to accept this information and stop smoking.
So, Can Churches Also Help People Eat Better?
Spiritual and social groups, including churches, have played a critical role in providing infrastructure and impetus for many advances, from civil rights to smoking. In my opinion, the time has come to actively utilize our churches and other organizations as vehicles to impart knowledge about healthier eating habits, thereby helping to prevent further unnecessary suffering and premature death.
The first step is to serve healthier food at organizational meetings. The next step is to arrange information sessions on dietary and lifestyle changes.
A funeral meal need not beget the next funeral.
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Dr. Ed James draws inspiration from his personal experiences with healthy lifestyle changes, having overcome pre-diabetes and obesity several years ago. In 2011, he founded Heal2BFree to focus on helping individuals and organizations to develop and implement action plans that help close the health disparities gap between blacks and whites. Dr. James has given many presentations, including the 2011 National Medical Association Colloquium and regularly contributes preventive health-related articles to some of the nation's top health publications. He is also the primary author and co-editor of Getting into Medical School - A Planning Guide for Minority Students He received his BS in Biology from Bucknell University and earned his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania as a participant in the Penn Med Scholars combined degree program. For healthier lifestyle tips and news, visit Dr. Ed at Heal 2B Free! Blackdoctor.org granted permission to reprint this article.
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