“When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick. Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” – Matthew 14:14-16
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Diet-related diseases disproportionately impact African Americans in the United States. The top chronic diseases decreasing the quality of life of African Americans include diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension and heart disease with obesity as the gateway. Obesity—which is the precursor to many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease—alone costs the United States more than $117 billion. That’s why President Obama under the Affordable Care Act has placed priority on prevention to improve the health of Americans but also control health care spending. By concentrating on the underlying drivers of chronic disease, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps us move from today’s sick-care system to a true “health care” system that encourages health and well-being.
And in the District youth are vulnerable to childhood obesity placing the District as a top 10 offender in America though it ranks 7th lowest among adults. With a population of 591,833, the District of Columbia’s African-American population comprises slightly more than half (50.7%). Of that number, majority are living in Wards 7 and 8 which has experienced a lack of affordable, accessible and quality foods and nutrition. For instance in the D.C. Department of Health’s Obesity Report, Ward 7 and 8 has a total of 6 large and small grocery stores and two farmers markets compared to Ward 2 and 3 has 16 large and small grocery stores and 7 farmer’s markets and 4 organic markets. Overall one-third (33%) of District adults consumer the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
With the growing epidemic of diet-related diseases, faith-based institutions can play a key role in influencing health eating efforts among their congregation. Few faith-based program interventions integrate its teachings with nutrition education, particularly using a participatory approach. At the St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in southeast Washington, DC, participants attended “Food for the Soul” a faith-based eight weekly nutrition sessions. They received weekly incentives for completing assignments to reinforce healthy behaviors. Activities included writing in journals, creating kitchen commandments, and preparing healthy recipes.
As a result, participants are preparing more meals at home with fruits and vegetables. Also participants reported an improved sense of self and incorporating their faith made a positive impact in goal achievement. At the end members supported the development of a new culinary ministry which Parish Life Council approved.
Church members have shown their excitement and encouragement for more programs in nutrition education, food safety and wellness. Given the high unemployment in communities such as East of the River, many families wouldn’t be able to afford private nutritionists and personal trainers to improve their health and quality of life. Therefore the federally-funded programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program are vitally important. By doing so, we continue to provide citizen-demanded nutritional services with culturally competent nutrition professionals. Ultimately we can address the health disparities and curb the diet-related disorders preventing another generation from seeing its full potential.
At the beginning of the program, participants wrote letters to God about their nutritional goals:
We truly are what we eat, thus we must watch what we take in. Eating must be life giving. This comes at a critical time for me. It brings structure to my Lenten journey. My sacrifice truly will be a journey of discipline using natural (things already available from nature) substance to replenish my body through meals. The suggested meditative habit will help guide me to a closer relationship with God. – Food for the Soul adult participant
I learned that I don’t need mass quantities of food to be satisfied or several cups of juice to be refreshed. I will most definitely drink coconut water instead of Gatorade. I like the fact that food symbolizes freedom and after today I look forward to this idea expounded upon and being fully understood. – Food for the Soul youth participant
I want to experience true vitality again to breathe better, feel stronger, act more boldly. Also I see a need to eat less and think about food less. Please help me to make healthy choices about what I eat and save for others. Help me to eat more mindfully and prayerfully. And help me to remember those who don’t have enough to eat. – Food for the Soul adult participant
Together participants created healthy dishes. Below is a copy of a recipe for Warm Apple Crisp.
Tambra Stevenson is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can follow her on Twitter @tambra.