Feds Spend $699,085 Using The Church to Tell Latinos to Exercise

Researchers seek to co-opt the 'moral authority' of Catholic churches to get Latinos to work out

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June 12, 2018

The National Institutes of Health is spending roughly $700,000 on a study attempting to use churches to get Latinos to go to the park to work out.

RAND Corporation researchers believe their project is the first study of Latino Catholic church-led workout events in public parks to fight obesity.

"Public parks comprise local infrastructure that can be leveraged for community PA [physical activity], but tend to be underutilized, particularly in low-income communities," according to the grant for the project. "Parks in low-income and minority communities tend to have less PA programming, especially targeting adults, and higher crime and other factors that affect park use. There is a need for interventions that address community concerns, target the built environment, and 'activate' park use."

Enter churches: Researchers believe they can co-opt their "vast social networks" and "moral authority" to get Latinos to exercise.

"Churches are credible, stable entities that have significant reach within Latino communities and a history of social service provision and advocacy related to health and well-being," the grant states. "Our research has found that church-based interventions can be effective across a wide range of health issues and types of churches."

The study, which began last month, will develop a "multi-level" and "inter-sectoral" intervention joining Latino Catholic churches with local parks. Approximately 1,500 parishioners in Los Angeles will be recruited for the project.

Researchers will measure the effects of working out in public parks on the parishioners' "waist circumference, waist to hip ratio, body fat, mental health, and perceived social support" for physical activity.

The study also involves "peer-led walking groups" and other "park-based church events."

"It integrates churches' vast social networks, moral authority, and influence with parks' structural and organizational capacity and kinesiology student interns' professional expertise," the grant states.

Researchers believe the effort is "scalable and sustainable in real-world settings."

"To our knowledge, this will be the first study to examine the effectiveness of an integrated church and park-based intervention on Latinos' PA, and it will provide a sustainable model of PA programming in low-income communities," the grant states.

"If the intervention proves effective, the increased community capacity through this partnership will lay the groundwork for scale-up across the largest diocese in the U.S. and, potentially, the nation," the grant concludes.

The project has received $699,085 from taxpayers so far. Research will continue through April 2023.