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Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More


Combining best practices that target individual behavior with environmental and policy changes, Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More (FFESMM) educates faith community members about food, physical activity and becoming advocates for healthy policy and environmental changes within their communities. FFESMM can be used with any faith tradition. Trained lay leaders from individual faith communities are paired with nutrition/physical activity educators to co-teach lessons and deliver the program. FFESMM has worked predominantly with low-income African-American faith communities, designated by percentage of their members who are eligible for Medicaid, eligible for free or reduced school lunches and/or are at 200% of the federal poverty level. The program has also demonstrated success in a limited number of non-African-American faith communities. This focus allows faith communities to link economically disadvantaged community members to education and resources, empowering them to eat healthier, increase their physical activity and become advocates for positive policy and environmental changes within their communities.

The program involves a partnership between the North Carolina Division of Public Health and North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Cooperative Extension employs a Faithful Families program coordinator. Supervision of this position is shared between the two organizations. The Faithful Families program coordinator maintains relationships with faith community partners and provides technical assistance to implement the program. A leadership team, with representatives from each agency who meet quarterly, provides oversight for the program. The Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program1 nutrition/physical activity educators partner with lay leaders at each of the faith communities to co-lead the nutrition/physical activity sessions.

FFESMM is delivered at 4 levels of the socio-ecological model:

  1. Individual level:  The Faithful Families program coordinator and faith lay leaders work with each faith community to offer handouts and posters. In addition, individuals complete the Member Health Assessments and are recruited to participate in the nutrition/physical activity education series.  

  2. Interpersonal (family) level:  Nutrition/physical activity educators, hired through NC Cooperative Extension, co-deliver with faith community lay leaders the series of nine nutrition, food safety and food resource management lessons. Through dialogue and goal setting, individuals and families in the classes are encouraged to change their risk behaviors and set goals for healthy eating and daily physical activity.

  3. Organizational:  Each faith community conducts a Faith Community Health Assessment to determine the most relevant and pressing policy and environmental changes needed. Additionally, FFESMM offers a comprehensive Eating Smart and Moving More Planning Guide for Faith Communities to enhance access to resources and supplement technical assistance for each faith community. Further, as requested, the Faithful Families program coordinator provides faith communities with sample newsletter ideas, bulletin inserts, and sermon/speaking topics to reinforce healthy behavior messages in the faith community. 

  4. Community:  Faithful Families staff connect each faith community with existing county level resources, including programs offered through county Cooperative Extension offices and local public health departments. Additionally, faith communities are encouraged to enact policy and environmental changes that promote healthy eating and physical activity for the community at large. They are encouraged to think beyond the walls of the organization itself as they work for sustainable changes to promote healthy behaviors.

Intended population: Faith communities with limited-resource members

Setting: Faith communities

Length of time in the field: FFESMM began in 2008 as a year-long pilot study across 11 faith communities in Harnett County, NC. As of October 2011, 39 faith communities across nine NC counties had completed all elements of the program.

1 The National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is a unique program that currently operates in all 50 states and in American Samoa, Guam, Micronesia, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It is designed to assist limited-resource audiences in acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and changed behavior necessary for nutritionally sound diets, and to contribute to their personal development and the improvement of the total family diet and nutritional well-being.