Churches Encourage Weight-Loss, Healthy Eating

Sunday dinner never looked so good — or so healthy — to members of Union Baptist Church.

Gone are some traditional fried and calorie-laden favorites.

Instead, healthier choices including ground turkey and grilled salmon grace the supper table these days for church members such as Craig and Tiffany Finley.

Union Baptist recently won Integris Health's black church weight-loss challenge, a yearlong battle of the fittest congregations.

Integris Health's Zora Brown said eight churches remained as challenge participants after the contest ended in October 2008. The initial weigh-in for the eight churches totaled more than 50,000 pounds. At the challenge's end, the combined weight loss of those churches totaled about 9,000 pounds.

Brown said the challenge, issued at Integris Health's 2007 African American Health Summit, was one of the ways the health care organization encouraged predominantly black churches to take action in the battle against health disparities among blacks. The churches were encouraged to form weight-loss teams in pursuit of prizes and, ultimately, healthier lifestyles.

Chris Finley and Malissa Johnson served as coordinators of the Union Baptist team.

Finley said the team started with about 50 people, but that number dwindled to half in the first few weeks. In the last months of the challenge, about 20 team members were still on track, losing weight for a good cause.

Finley said he and his wife permanently changed their eating habits as a result of the challenge. He said they stopped frying foods and now eat ground turkey, which is leaner than ground beef. He said they also grill more of their food and especially like grilled fish such as salmon.

Also, Finley said they began to encourage their 10-year-old daughter to become more active, and she now participates in soccer. He laughed when he said they had to do a bit of tough love getting her to switch from her favorite hamburger fast-food meal to a healthier submarine shop sandwich. Now she requests the sub first, Finley said.

Meanwhile, church member Christina Doolittle was dubbed "the biggest loser" of the bunch. When asked what she did to lose weight, she said she joined Curves, a women's-only health club and fitness center franchise.

Other team members, such as Johnson and Alecia Finley, said they worked out at their health club together.

As the challenge winner, Union Baptist received a 42-inch flat-screen television from Integris Health, plus $500 from partner agency State Farm Insurance, through agent Darlene Hundon.

Second-place winner Greater Shiloh Baptist Church and third-place winner Holy Temple Baptist each received tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game and $250. All of the remaining church challenge participants received consolation prizes including hooded jackets, T-shirts and tickets to the play "The Color Purple."

At Holy Temple, Lula Smith, co-coordinator of the church's nurse's unit, said some church members were hesitant about the challenge, and others "held on faithfully."

While the Union Baptist team weighed in after church on Sundays, Smith said she weighed the Holy Temple team once a month before church.

She said the church had begun a health campaign before Integris Health issued the weight-loss challenge. The campaign included the addition of more vegetables and salads at church get-togethers and banquets. Smith said doughnuts and pastries were dropped from the children's breakfast menu and replaced with sliced applies and oranges, grapes and fruit juices.

Smith said she credits her team's perseverance for the third-place win.

"It was really a big lesson. We did our little part, and it paid off."


Information from: The Oklahoman,