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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Countin health among a community's blessings

By Angela Wagner

I just got a call from a local church, a group interested in beginning a physical activity promotion program for their congregation. They had sponsored informal softball games on occasion but wanted to begin offering regular organized sports leagues for their members.

This concept is time-tested: Sports ministry programs have been in existence for many years, and church picnics have often included the traditional football and soccer games. In fact, sports have often been used as the vehicle to spread a spiritual message.

Similarly, folks who are already spiritually committed often want to use their congregational ties to promote health. This actually is a very good idea.

In 1999, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a document entitled "Engaging Faith Communities as Partners in Improving Public Health." In this document, the public health experts recommended that faith-based partners be actively recruited to assist with community health promotion.

Many faith-based organizations have built on this concept and now offer an array of health screenings and counseling. So now, not only can you attend Mass, go to church or attend a faith-based meeting, but you can often get your blood pressure screened in the same place. In this world of single-parent families and parents with multiple jobs, this is a blessing. Anything that saves time is.

Similarly, many of you have skills that could benefit your congregation. Church members who are interested in serving as blood pressure screeners or health advocates can receive training from agencies such as the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society.

Individuals with health training may want to take the initiative and offer their services to their congregations. For example, nurses can offer blood pressure

screening or exercise physiologists can help individuals hoping to lose weight begin an exercise program.

Of course sports are beneficial in teaching children core values and morals such as sharing, team building, cooperation and good sportsmanship. They provide youths with healthy alternatives to less desirable behaviors such as drug use and gang activity.

Faith organization leaders interested in beginning sports leagues or health events can receive assistance from the state Department of Health by calling 586-4671.

In times of world unrest, people often begin to draw closer to those who hold similar spiritual beliefs. This creates a natural partnership for those wanting to lose weight or begin an exercise program, or for those who want to try a new sport. So if you need help, ask for it. If you want to help, then volunteer. And next time you are planning that church potluck, maybe set aside time for a festive sporting match of some kind, participation mandatory.

Angela Wagner is a free-lance writer who also works for The Queen's Medical Center as a health educator specializing in diabetes and exercise, and for the state Department of Health as a program manager in the Health Promotion and Education Branch. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, 'Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170. This column is not intended to provide medical advice; you should consult your doctor.