San Antonio Area Program Combines Health and Nutrition with Bible Study

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When she was growing up, Summer Wilmoth wanted to cure cancer. In his mind, that meant going to medical school.

After losing her mother to cancer at the age of 8, “I always had the idea in my head, I’m going to be a doctor,” Wilmoth said. “I always thought, ‘I’m going to find a cure for cancer and save everyone. “

But “research sucked me in” as an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, she said, and now Wilmoth wants to keep people from getting sick in the first place.

She found an outlet for this with a consortium of churches that formed the Building a Healthy Temple program, which provides health education to her congregations. Wilmoth started working with him as a graduate student in 2010.

After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTSA, she also became the school’s first student to be accepted for a joint doctorate. translational science program between UTSA, University of Texas at Austin, UT Health San Antonio, and UT Health Houston School of Public Health.

Translational science strives to move scientific discoveries more effectively to their actual application, in order to overcome the obstacles that prevent such research from quickly benefiting people and patients. It’s about “starting with the end in mind,” Wilmoth said: thinking about the implementation and outcomes of policies when research first begins.

“You have to start your basic discovery with, ‘How can I design this to help people in the future? »», She declared. “It’s not just about doing science for the sake of science.

The same idea is behind the 35 congregations in San Antonio that incorporate Bible study, nutrition classes, and physical activity into things like healthy vacation Bible school and cancer prevention programs and of obesity.

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The lessons use religion to teach the body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” said the senior pastor of the Central Church of God, José Daniel Montañez, spiritual advisor for the program. “And about the importance of being good stewards not only of the things we receive, but also of our mind, body and soul.”

It was started by Dr Meizi He, professor of kinesiology, health and nutrition at UTSA, and Deborah Parra-Medina, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UT Health Science Center.

Montañez helped develop the lessons, applying relevant scriptures and preparing sample sermons for participating churches.

Bible study lessons such as “Eat Healthy For the Glory of God” and “What Do the Scriptures Say About Alcohol?” Are linked to nutritional demonstrations on topics such as hydration, moderate consumption and consumption of whole grains.

In addition to the lessons, churches are forming health ministry committees for congregation members to lead one another and implement long-term changes.

At the Central Church of God, this has included removing sodas and changing cooking methods for religious events, as well as changing the way people think about health, exercise and nutrition. , said Montañez,

“It has developed an awareness of the need to be more careful in the way we take care of ourselves,” he said.

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And because it’s run by church members, the changes have been lasting over the past six years, since the church first became part of the pilot program.

Other churches have been able to secure funding with the help of the program for projects such as opening a basketball court or modifying their kitchens, said Wilmoth, who is now the main coordinator of the program but who will be looking for a new job now that she has graduated. the doctoral program in December.

The newest Building a Healthy Temple component, the diabetes management group formation, is based on the same ideas of connecting the program to the faith of the participants and operating in a comfortable and easily accessible environment.

“The faith-based platform is extremely good to be able to do something that really matters and is sustainable,” embedded in a health message, “so that you can go out and serve people, serve your community and serve God,” she declared. noted.

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