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Live Well By Faith

While worshippers in many churches sit with folded hands and bowed heads, parishioners at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri jump, stretch, and move. Before he retired, Pastor Carloes Taylor would invite his congregation to wear work-out clothing on “Sweatsuit Sunday” and incorporated 15 minutes of exercise into the worship service.

He said, “As people of faith, not only must we have healthy spirits, but we got to have healthy bodies, and sometimes we don’t put enough emphasis on taking care of our bodies.”

Pastor Taylor represents one of several churches working in partnership with the Columbia-Boone County Health Department to bring the “Live Well by Faith” program to the Black community.

Columbia-Boone County Health Department conducted a Community Health Assessment. They collected and analyzed data and found that Black residents of Columbia experience high blood pressure and diabetes at significantly higher rates than white residents. Data also showed the death rate from these conditions was two to three times higher among Black residents than among white Boone County residents.

“We looked at communicable disease rates and leading causes of death rates by race and found a significant disparity,” said Michelle Shikles, Public Health Promotion Supervisor for the Columbia-Boone County Health Department.

In response, Shikles developed a fitness and nutrition program based on models that had been specifically developed for the African-American community and had been tested and proven effective.

“The idea behind it was that we take these programs that are health education programs,” said Shikles, “and we’d pair them with policy changes and environmental changes in our churches to have a true health promotion program that addressed policy, environmental changes, and education among participants.”

Shikles requested and received grant funding from the Boone County Commission to launch the “Live Well by Faith Program.”

“We hired somebody who was part of the community,” adds Shikles. “She was very familiar with the community, and that was key. She reached out to all the churches and found a member in each church who was willing to be a health leader.”

When Pastor Taylor was approached, he jumped at the opportunity. He looked at a menu of programs the Health Department had created and chose those that best fit health needs among his congregation. Pastor Taylor then tasked his church’s Health Ministry with implementing the Live Well by Faith program. Health department staff trained a church member to be a “lifestyle coach,” and together they started a weight loss program, encouraged healthier eating, and supported exercise opportunities for the congregation and community members.


Shikles said, “We held an African Heritage Cooking Class – trying to get programs that were culturally appropriate, that they felt like they identified with. We really did want to make this sustainable and give them tools so they could build their own capacity.”

Other Black churches in Columbia also chose programs from the menu and developed their own Live Well by Faith programs to fit their congregations’ needs. A lifestyle coach in each church now leads the new health ministries and will provide sustainability as the Health Department moves on to help other churches get started.

Rebecca Roesslet, Planning Supervisor at the Columbia-Boone County Health Department, describes how they designed the program to be sustainable.

“It wasn’t just Michelle’s employee going in and doing a health education. She really grew a health ministry from within their own parish or congregation so that they had individuals within their faith family that would continue to support them and carry the work forward, so at some point Michelle’s health educator could leave that church knowing that they were in a good place and that the program there was sustainable, and then branch out to another faith home and continue to grow the program there.”


The program has been a huge success. Shikles reports that out of 215 participants, two in three lost weight and lowered their body-mass index. Nearly one in four improved their blood pressure. Just over one in ten increased their level of physical activity to at least 30 minutes a day, and more than half increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption by at least one serving.

She said keys to the program’s success included designing it with culture and language that were comfortable for the audience, hiring a member of the community to engage the churches, getting buy-in from the pastors, and finding champions within each church to keep the program running.

The Health Department continues to review data from its Community Health Assessment and identify health disparities. They hope to expand the Live Well by Faith program to include a focus on mental health and communicable disease prevention. They also hope to create a similar program for the Latinx population in Boone County.


Learn more about the "Live Well by Faith" program from the Columbia-Boone County Health Department

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