The Power of Prevention, Part 4: Faith-Based Obesity Battle

The Power of Prevention Part 4 Faith Based Obesity Battle

A research team at the OSUCCC – James is partnering with churches in a five-state region to refine and test a faith-based intervention program to promote health and reduce cancer risk by addressing obesity.

Electra Paskett, PhD, MSPH, associate director for population sciences at the OSUCCC – James, is principal investigator for the project, which is the research part of the larger Appalachian Community Cancer Network (ACCN), a network funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The research component, titled "Faith-Based Initiative to Promote Health in Appalachia," is funded at $2.7 million.

This intervention program uses community-based participatory strategies for studying two causes of obesity: sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet. The target region is mainly rural and contains medically underserved people with low income, education deficits, poor health, increased rates of obesity and high cancer incidence.

"An obesogenic environment promotes obesity by encouraging physical inactivity and limiting healthy food choices," Paskett says. "This project is testing a faith-based intervention in 10 churches against a comparison program in 10 additional churches where participants receive information and cancer-screening tests, but not the intervention."

Participants in the intervention churches receive help in increasing their physical activity and consuming healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables.

Paskett says the intervention also involves an e-health computer program that tracks the number of steps taken per day by participants and provides them with tailored messages and information about increasing physical activity and changing their diets.

"We also are exploring the willingness of participants to provide biomarkers and biospecimens to further understand the effects of the intervention on markers of obesity and to establish a biospecimen bank within Appalachia," she adds, noting that the e-health program was supported by a $100,000 “idea grant” from Pelotonia, an annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James.

"That money helped us secure the NCI funding we need to do the whole research study in these 20 churches throughout the ACCN region," Paskett explains.

"We believe this project has had an impact among members of the participating churches," she says, "and the successful strategies could be used to improve the health of residents in other states throughout Appalachia in the future."