Investigating Socioeconomic Disparities in the Potential Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Environments of Churches

  • John A. BernhartEmail author
  • Elizabeth A. La Valley
  • Andrew T. Kaczynski
  • Sara Wilcox
  • Danielle E. Jake-Schoffman
  • Nathan Peters
  • Caroline G. Dunn
  • Brent Hutto
Original Paper


Faith-based settings have the potential to improve health in underresourced communities, but little research has quantified and compared health-promoting elements in church environments. This study examines the number of potential indoor and outdoor physical activity opportunities, healthy eating opportunities, healthy living media, and total environmental resources present in churches (n = 54) in a rural, southeastern US county and the relationship between these resources and neighborhood income. In our sample, most churches offered potential indoor and outdoor opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating opportunities, with more variability in the number of healthy living media items on display compared to other environmental components. Common potential opportunities present in churches for physical activity included a fellowship hall and green/open space, while potential opportunities for healthy eating frequently included a refrigerator and sink. Compared to those in medium- and high-income neighborhoods, churches in low-income neighborhoods scored higher on measures of potential outdoor physical activity opportunities and lower on measures of total potential environment resources, healthy eating opportunities, healthy living media, and indoor physical activity opportunities, though only indoor physical activity opportunities reached statistical significance. Potential opportunities for using existing resources in and around churches for health promotion should be investigated further, particularly in rural areas.


Church Environment Physical activity Healthy eating Disparities 



This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U48DP005000 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. The authors also wish to thank Cheryl Goodwin for her substantial assistance with the Faith, Activity, and Nutrition Project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

This research did not involve the participation of any human subjects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John A. Bernhart
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Elizabeth A. La Valley
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrew T. Kaczynski
    • 1
    • 3
  • Sara Wilcox
    • 1
    • 2
  • Danielle E. Jake-Schoffman
    • 4
  • Nathan Peters
    • 5
  • Caroline G. Dunn
    • 1
    • 3
  • Brent Hutto
    • 1
  1. 1.Prevention Research Center, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of Massachusetts Medical SchoolWorcesterUSA
  5. 5.School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure StudiesBowling Green UniversityBowling GreenUSA

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