The Spring/Summer issue of the Johns Hopkins Health Review contains an excellent article about faith-based nutrition efforts and public health impacts. Among the interviewees are the Rev. Darriel Harris of the Baltimore Food and Faith Project and Fred Bahnson of Wake Forest Divinity School’s Food, Faith and Ecological Well-Being program. The piece makes evident both that there is yet work to be done at the intersection of food and faith, and also that this work has been shown to have public health impacts.
A small but growing body of research shows the benefits of the religion-meets-healthy eating approach. One of the first studies on faith and food, published in 2005 in Health Psychology, focused on a program implemented in 16 African-American churches in Atlanta where obesity was prevalent among the middle- and upper-class congregants. The researchers recruited 1,056 participants and trained church members in counseling their peers on diet habits and on meaningful reasons for change. Pastors were also asked to mention the program from the pulpit, and churches offered healthy food options at events and celebrations. After one year, the participants averaged a one-serving-a-day uptick in fruit and vegetable consumption compared to a control group.