Church-Based Cancer Prevention Program Reaches
Out to Community
More than 100 churches in the Miami-Dade County, Florida area participate in a community health program called Healthy Body, Healthy Soul, aimed at health promotion and disease prevention activities. Administered by the Health Choice Network (HCN), it's having a significant effect on healthy behavior change.
"In the past, a church event might have included a lot of high-fat foods, but now we see more fruits and vegetables and fewer sodas," says Rev. Ted Greer, who heads up the Jesse Trice Cancer Prevention Project, which is part of the Healthy Body, Healthy Soul program. And pastors like Rev. Greer are leading by example. "When we schedule a health fair at one of our churches, the pastor leads the line," he says. "That's powerful. The congregation usually follows, because it's not just someone lecturing them.
"Healthy Body, Healthy Soul is a grassroots movement to reach out to minority groups and educate them about cancer prevention and healthy lifestyles. Despite efforts to make health care available to everyone, there is still a difference in minorities' cancer health outcomes and access to primary and preventive health services compared to whites. Some of these disparities can sometimes be overcome when health promotion messages come from within the community itself. HCN is a good example.
HCN is a group of community health center corporations that operates primary health care and mental health clinics in four states. In Florida, HCN reaches more than 170,000 patients. Forty-four percent are Hispanic and 30 percent are black; 69 percent are at or below the federal poverty level.
HCN clinic staff train local congregation members to conduct health and education activities at their churches. The program not only improves the health of individuals, but also develops the community's capacity to sustain its own health promotion efforts.
The Jessie Trice Cancer Prevention Project, named after a nurse and community health advocate who died of lung cancer, provides prevention education, smoking cessation, and screening services for early detection of lung, prostate, breast, and cervical cancers.
Rev. Greer says that the keys to this program's success are access to medical care for patients and access to the community through churches. "We pastors used to talk about God's ability to heal, but we never talked about prevention," he says. "This program gives us the opportunity to do that."
The project has screened more than 5,000 patients and identified 3 cases of stage I lung cancer. An additional 75 residents are being monitored to make sure that, if they do develop cancer, it's identified early. More than 3,000 teens and young adults have received smoking prevention and cessation services, and 100 have completed smoking cessation classes.
For more information about the Health Choice Network, go to www.hcnetwork.org.