October 19, 2011


Our communities need our help.

But in some places, the needs are so many, so overwhelming, that we don't know where to start. So we never move past conception stage to get into the gritty work of helping people.

One way to move past this mission overload is to zero in on a specific issue.

African American and other minority groups face myriad challenges: higher rates of unemployment and incarceration, racism, drug addiction, language barriers. It's exhausting just to think about all the work and ministry that needs to be done.

When St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, a historic black congregation in Dayton, Ohio, began its newest ministry, it narrowed its focus to a particular problem: obesity in African American, Latino, and low-income children.

While obesity is a national epidemic, the problem is particularly acute within these communities. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. African American children are 30 percent as likely to be overweight than whites. And a review of 90 studies about causes of obesity led researchers to conclude: "There was a time when you had to be rich to be fat. Now you have to be rich to stay thin."

St. Margaret's recently joined with two area universities to offer a new program called DANCE: Dance and Nutrition Create Excitement about better health.

DANCE is a culturally-sensitive, spiritually-centered, and family-oriented approach to combating overweight problems and obesity in families from African American, Hispanic/Latino, and low-income backgrounds.

The program integrates cultural and economic realities into a multi-faceted approach to help youth change their eat­ing and exercise habits, improve their self-esteem, and lose unwanted pounds.

The program so far has helped 32 youth and 20 caregivers to develop healthier eating habits, increase physical activity, and build strong self-esteem.

The problem isn't solved. But with a clear focus, St. Margaret's is taking the first steps.