Prof tries to help Baptists improve health
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (BP)--Baptists are more likely than people in other denominations and religious groups to be obese, according to a study released by Purdue University in 2006.
Jim Florence is aware of this study. He keeps up with academic studies through his work at East Tennessee State University, where he is associate professor of public health.
But he is more concerned about the trends reflected by this and other studies because he himself is a Southern Baptist and feels called by God "to help Baptists improve their health," he said.
Florence began his own study of the health of Southern Baptist ministers in California with his doctoral dissertation 26 years ago.
One way he tries to help his fellow Southern Baptists is by working with the Holston Baptist Association (headquartered in Johnson City, Tenn.) to help the roughly 100 ministers in the association assess their health. His wife, Annette, who also holds a doctorate in public health, assists him. They are members of Calvary Baptist Church in Erwin, Tenn.
Too many Southern Baptists and especially ministers are "exhausted, overweight, and sometimes smoking," he said.
Florence is passionate about this subject for several reasons, including a personal one. His brother died of a heart attack at age 37. The death was one of the motivating factors for Florence to enter public health.
"My heart is for Baptists to be healthy and live out our full number of days ... and be good stewards of what God's given us," he said.
Seventy-five percent of health problems that lead to premature death are the result of lifestyle, he said.
"If we know that then we ought to be able to slow down a lot of the premature death in our country," he said.
Southern food -- particularly fried food -- is a factor, since most Southern Baptists live in the South. Southern cuisine has been a problem for the region for years. Pentecostals at one time were the most obese denomination, and that is partly related to the fact that most Pentecostals live in the South, he said.
Tennessee is 47th in ranking of the 50 states in terms of the health status of its citizens, according to the United Health Care Foundation, Florence said.
"Our pastors are serving people with the greatest needs," he said. That means that as Florence helps Southern Baptist ministers, he is helping those who are helping the most needy," he added.
Ministers, he said, have lives "which are very demanding in the best of times," he noted. "The health demands on their own personal bodies are often set aside for the demands of the body of Christ," he said, referring to the congregation.
Florence encourages people to try some healthy approaches to life, "even if you live in the South, even if you like biscuits and gravy.
"I want to challenge God's people to take seriously the call to Romans 12:1," which calls Christians "to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God." The Bible describes the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, he noted.
The body produces 10 milligrams of cholesterol for every excess pound, he said. Cholesterol, of course, leads to heart problems.
For about 75 percent of people, he added, simply losing weight can lead to a reduction in blood cholesterol and the elimination of blood pressure medicine.
Exercise, he said, can play a significant role in health. For every hour of aerobic exercise, he said, a person can expect to add two hours to their life expectancy.
"We do it to ourselves," he said of poor health. "These are the things that ought not to be."
This story first appeared in the Baptist & Reflector, online at www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp.