Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the American Cancer Society are teaming up with churches around the state to improve the health of African Americans. Churches in Grand Rapids, Flint, and southeast Michigan are taking a stand and consciously choosing a healthier lifestyle by competing in Body & Soul and the Blues Community Challenge.
Body & Soul is a health program developed by the American Cancer Society specifically for African-American churches. The program empowers church members to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables by providing resources, education and information about nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits.
Circles of Influence
The program recognizes the powerful role of the church in black communities.
“The African-American church is one of the most (if not the most) trusted institution in the African-American community,” said the Rev. Dallas Lenear of New Hope Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. “Inspiration and information from pastors and church leaders are generally well-received. When local pastors join forces around a common goal, the entire community takes notice.”
African Americans have their own set of challenges with chronic diseases and health disparities:
- Roughly 40 percent of African American men in Michigan will not live past their 65th birthday.
- African American women are more likely to die from heart disease than women of other races.
- African Americans of both genders are much more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.
BCBSM provides the physical activity component of the program through an online tool that helps participants log how many minutes of exercise they’re getting each day, with the minutes then translated into mileage. The churches whose members log the most walking miles by the end of the challenge are awarded grant money to support health ministry efforts.
“We are working with our community partners to identify and address health disparities,” said Bridget Hurd, director of Community Responsibility for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We find it is most effective to work with organizations that are already involved in the community and recognized as leaders and decision-makers; this helps us in our efforts to improve the health status of Michigan residents in communities throughout the state.”
It Takes a Village
The goal is to empower people to take personal responsibility for their health.
“I just jumped on board because I needed to lose some weight,” said Lynn Gleton, a participant of Body & Soul and the Blues’ Challenge in Detroit last year. “That was the driving force, and then I found out I have high blood pressure, so I am trying to do some things to lower my blood pressure. That’s why I was excited about the walking part of the program.”
With the U.S. spending more than ever on chronic disease like those listed above, every step counts. The Blues’ Community Challenge gives members from churches that are participating in American Cancer Society’s Body & Soul program an extra incentive to get moving. Challenges begin at churches in the following three communities:
- Southeast Michigan: May 6- July 28
- Grand Rapids: May 5 – July 28
- Flint: August – October
Learn more about the ACS Body & Soul program at Cancer.org/bodyandsoul. Or check out a video about last year’s program, below.