Church picnics. Can’t you just taste the fried chicken, potato salad, homemade cakes, and big glasses of sweet, sweet iced tea? (I can, but maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading a lot of southern novelists these days.)

A study that came out this summer, however, found that traditions like these may be taking a toll on congregations. The study tracked the religious practices of more than 2,500 people from 1986 to 1994, and then correlated that data with the body mass index of each subjects. The result? Those of certain denominations—particularly Baptists and fundamentalist Protestants—are more likely to be obese. The study’s author, Ken Ferraro, decried what he calls “Krispy Kreme Christianity.”

An article in today’s San Mateo County Times outlines an innovative program in Santa Clara County, California, that is helping congregants get healthy. Five years ago, shocked by high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer in the African-American community, county health officials approached church leaders and asked them to help save their parishioners’ bodies as well as their souls.

Now those efforts seem to be paying off:

At Sureway Ministries in Palo Alto, congregants work out together at the gym. Newly slim members of True Vine Baptist Church in San Jose are taking daily walks and serving fruit—not cake—at church meetings. And after each Golden Altar Sunday service, members get their blood pressure and glucose levels checked.

Since support is a key predictor of success in any health-improvement undertaking, this kind of counseling seems to be a great idea. There’s even an umbrella organization to support the supporters!

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