Sam Kass, White House head chef and senior policy advisor for healthy food initiatives, addressed 19 national faith leaders this morning May 31 at an unprecedented meeting to bring greater attention to the nationwide childhood obesity epidemic.

Three Presbyterians participated in the meeting, hosted by the Campaign for Healthy Kids and Let’s Move! Faith and Communities: Martha Bettis Gee, associate for child advocacy for the General Assembly Mission Council; Jane Givens of the Presbyterian Health Network, a constituent organization of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association; and the Rev. Eileen Lindner, chair of the Health Care Task Force of the National Council of Churches.

Jim Winkler, general secretary for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society who wrote about the role of faith communities in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic for The Huffington Post earlier this year, said he was encouraged by how many different faith communities are committing to joining the fight.

 “As one who has attended many a church potluck dinner where healthy food options are limited, I know that churches have a choice: we can model unhealthy or healthy eating habits,” Winkler said.  “Churches across the country engage in significant children's ministries every day, and I am happy to be able to say that many of our churches have initiated food pantries, community gardens, and many other important health-related initiatives.” 

Winkler added: “Churches must be part of the solution so that we can arrest disturbing health trends, including an uptick in Diabetes Type II, heart disease and high cholesterol in young children.”

The aim of the meeting was to identify opportunities for faith groups to increase and promote wellness and healthy lifestyle options in their congregations and states, implement more health and fitness activities, and urge Kass and First Lady Michelle Obama to support the state-level policy change initiative, Targeted Coordinated School Health.

Targeted Coordinated School Health, modeled after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coordinated School Health, addresses the relationship between health and learning. Through a district-level coordinator, it promotes policies and practices that integrate nutrition education into health and physical education, and nutrition services, and makes physical activity a component of the entire school day through wake-up warms-ups, classroom physical activity breaks, and active recess.

The Campaign for Healthy Kids was created by Save the Children and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reverse the alarming statistic that nearly one in three children and adolescents are diagnosed as obese or overweight.

The Campaign works with local partners to advance state-level and local policy change to increase access to affordable healthy food and opportunities for physical activity.

Information for this story furnished by Safiya Simmons of the Campaign for Healthy Kids.