Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 799–811 | Cite as

Perceptions of Social and Environmental Support for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Rural Southern Churches

  • Michelle C. Kegler
  • Cam Escoffery
  • Iris C. Alcantara
  • Johanna Hinman
  • Ann Addison
  • Karen Glanz
Original Paper


The influence of church environments on healthy eating and physical activity was explored through in-depth interviews with rural adults aged 50-70 (n = 60). Data were analyzed using a constant comparative approach, with an emphasis on noting similarities and differences between African American and predominantly white churches. Findings suggest that church-based nutrition and exercise programs were rare, and existing recreational facilities were geared toward younger members. The majority of church leaders did not talk about nutrition or physical activity, but social support from church friends for healthy eating and physical activity was fairly common. Despite barriers to establishing healthy environments in church settings, churches are rich in social support that could be tapped to promote healthy behavior.


Nutrition Diet Physical activity Rural Church 



The authors wish to thank members of the EPRC's Community Advisory Board for their guidance in the design and implementation of this research and the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition for coordinating data collection. We also wish to thank our interviewers and study participants for their valuable contributions to this research.


This publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U48 DP 000043 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


  1. Atkinson, M. J., Boltri, J. M., Davis-Smith, M., Seale, J. P., Shellenberger, S., & Gonsalves, D. (2009). A qualitative inquiry into the community and programmatic dimensions associated with successful implementation of church-based diabetes prevention programs. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 15(3), 264–273.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Boehmer, T. K., Lovegreen, S. L., Haire-Joshu, D., & Brownson, R. C. (2006). What constitutes an obesogenic environment in rural communities? American Journal of Health Promotion, 20(6), 411–421.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boeije, H. (2002). A purposeful approach to the constant comparative method in the analysis of qualitative interviews. Quality & Quantity, 36, 391–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bopp, M., Lattimore, D., Wilcox, S., Laken, M., McClorin, L., Swinton, R., et al. (2007). Understanding physical activity participation in members of an African American church: a qualitative study. Health Education Research, 22(6), 815–826.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, M. K., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Symons, M., Kalsbeek, W. D., Dodds, J., Cowan, A., et al. (1999). Fruit and vegetable consumption and prevention of cancer: the Black Churches United for Better Health project. American Journal of Public Health, 89(9), 1390–1396.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell, M. K., Hudson, M. A., Resnicow, K., Blakeney, N., Paxton, A., & Baskin, M. (2007). Church-based health promotion interventions: evidence and lessons learned. Annual Review of Public Health, 28, 213–234.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chatters, L. M. (2000). Religion and health: public health research and practice. Annual Review of Public Health, 21, 335–367.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Darmon, N., & Drewnowski, A. (2008). Does social class predict diet quality? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5), 1107–1117.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. DeHaven, M. J., Hunter, I. B., Wilder, L., Walton, J. W., & Berry, J. (2004). Health programs in faith-based organizations: are they effective? American Journal of Public Health, 94(6), 1030–1036.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Drayton-Brooks, S., & White, N. (2004). Health promoting behaviors among African American women with faith-based support. The Association of Black Nursing Faculty Journal, 15(5), 84–90.Google Scholar
  11. Drewnowski, A., & Specter, S. E. (2004). Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(1), 6–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Glaser, B. (1965). The constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Social Problems, 12(4), 436–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hermstad, A. (2007). Behavioral and psychosocial correlates of the nutrition environment in rural southwest Georgia. Unpublished master’s thesis. Atlanta, GA: Emory University.Google Scholar
  14. Jackson, J. E., Doescher, M. P., Jerant, A. F., & Hart, L. G. (2005). A national study of obesity prevalence and trends by type of rural county. Journal of Rural Health, 21(2), 140–148.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kegler, M. C., Escoffery, C., Alcantara, I., Ballard, D., & Glanz, K. (2008). A qualitative examination of home and neighborhood environments for obesity prevention in rural adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5, 65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Larson, N. I., Story, M. T., & Nelson, M. C. (2009). Neighborhood environments: disparities in access to healthy foods in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(1), 74–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Liese, A. D., Weis, K. E., Pluto, D., Smith, E., & Lawson, A. (2007). Food store types, availability, and cost of foods in a rural environment. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 107(11), 1916–1923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Matthews, A. K., Berrios, N., Darnell, J. S., & Calhoun, E. (2006). A qualitative evaluation of a faith-based breast and cervical cancer screening intervention for African American women. Health Education & Behavior, 33(5), 643–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McLeroy, K. R., Bibeau, D., Steckler, A., & Glanz, K. (1988). An ecological perspective on health promotion programs. Health Education Quarterly, 15(4), 351–377.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  21. National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services (2005). The 2005 Report to the Secretary: Rural Health and Human Services Issues Retrieved Aug, 2008, from
  22. Patterson, P. D., Moore, C. G., Probst, J. C., & Shinogle, J. A. (2004). Obesity and physical inactivity in rural America. Journal of Rural Health, 20(2), 151–159.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Peterson, J., Atwood, J. R., & Yates, B. (2002). Key elements for church-based health promotion programs: outcome-based literature review. Public Health Nursing, 19(6), 401–411.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (2008). US religious landscape survey - religious affiliation: diverse and dynamic. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  26. Resnicow, K., Jackson, A., Blissett, D., Wang, T., McCarty, F., Rahotep, S., et al. (2005). Results of the healthy body healthy spirit trial. Health Psychology, 24(4), 339–348.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Richards, L. (2002). Using N6 in Qualitative Research. Melbourne, Australia: QSR International Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Roozen, D. A. (2007). American Congregations 2005. Retrieved December 2008, from
  29. Sallis, J. F., Cervero, R. B., Ascher, W., Henderson, K. A., Kraft, M. K., & Kerr, J. (2006). An ecological approach to creating active living communities. Annual Review of Public Health, 27, 297–322.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sanderson, B., Foushee, H. R., Bittner, V., Cornell, C. E., Stalker, V., Shelton, S., et al. (2003). Personal, social, and physical environmental correlates of physical activity in rural African-American women in Alabama. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 25(3 Suppl 1), 30–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sanderson, B., Littleton, M., & Pulley, L. (2002). Environmental, policy, and cultural factors related to physical activity among rural, African American women. Women and Health, 36(2), 75–90.Google Scholar
  32. Sharkey, J. R., & Horel, S. (2008). Neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation and minority composition are associated with better potential spatial access to the ground-truthed food environment in a large rural area. Journal of Nutrition, 138(3), 620–627.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Story, M., Kaphingst, K. M., Robinson-O’Brien, R., & Glanz, K. (2008). Creating healthy food and eating environments: Policy and environmental approaches. Annual Review of Public Health, 29, 253–272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. U.S. Census Bureau (2000). Census 2000 Demographics Profile Highlights [database] Retrieved February 2008, from
  35. Wilcox, S., Castro, C., King, A. C., Housemann, R., & Brownson, R. C. (2000). Determinants of leisure time physical activity in rural compared with urban older and ethnically diverse women in the United States. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 54(9), 667–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Williams, R. M., Glanz, K., Kegler, M. C., & Davis, E., Jr. (2009). A study of rural church health promotion environments: Leaders’ and members’ perspectives. Journal of Religion and Health.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle C. Kegler
    • 1
  • Cam Escoffery
    • 1
  • Iris C. Alcantara
    • 1
  • Johanna Hinman
    • 1
  • Ann Addison
    • 2
  • Karen Glanz
    • 3
  1. 1.Emory Prevention Research Center, Rollins School of Public HealthEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Primary Care of Southwest Georgia, IncBlakelyUSA
  3. 3.Schools of Medicine and NursingUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations