Ministers partner to help combat chronic illnesses

Imagine your next fellowship with a wider selection of fresh fruits and healthy vegetables. That’s the prescription from Baton Rouge’s “Hip Hop Doc,” Dr. Rani Whitfield. It’s also a game plan that nearly 30 Baton Rouge area pastors agreed would work as a starting point for their churches with the end goal of improving the fitness of their congregations.

That group of pastors gathered at Pennington Biomedical Research Center on August 28 for the East Baton Rouge Area Ministers Day, a time for them to learn more about healthy choices and to join in the fight against chronic diseases affecting our community.

“More times than not, chronic health problems stem from obesity,” explained Dr. William T. Cefalu, executive director of Pennington Biomedical. “What we do here is try to eliminate chronic disease, and we believe a healthy community starts with you.”

Diabetes and obesity are the top two chronic illnesses in our country, and the cost to Louisiana is approximately $1.37 billion annually. In many parts of Louisiana, the prevalence of diabetes is 50 percent higher than the national average.

According to Cefalu, up to 30 percent of people with diabetes don’t know they have it, despite its debilitating effects. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. and one of the leading causes of amputations—two very compelling reasons why ministers at the event are partnering with Pennington Biomedical. They want to ensure their members are healthy throughout their lives.

“The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” said Rev. Donald Sterling, East Baton Rouge Parish Minister’s Conference President, who plans to take the message of healthy living back to his congregation. “The information that we’ve learned today—it’s going to go a long way in helping our people lead healthy lives. We as preachers can’t preach about health unless we take care of ourselves, so we need to be at the forefront, letting our people know they can lead productive lives if they’re healthy.” Rev. Sterling is Pastor of Israelite Missionary Baptist Church of South Baton Rouge and Pastor of Greater St. John Baptist Church.

Sterling and his fellow pastor, Rev. Conway L. Knighton of St. Mary Baptist Church, were so moved by the statistics on diabetes that they agreed to also help Pennington Biomedical recruit for clinical trials, such as ARTIIS, which examines the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar in Black men.

“I want to get some of the people from Pennington [Biomedical] to do an orientation, to share the word with people I know about what good health can do for you,” said Knighton.wpid-wp-1410314926550.jpeg

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden praised Pennington Biomedical for its in-depth research of chronic issues like diabetes that largely effect the Black population, including his brother, who was a double amputee before he passed away.

“What we’re doing is trying to pass the message [that] you’ve got to eat right, you’ve got to exercise, you’ve got to watch your weight, because all of these things together can make a difference in the quality of life you have,” said Holden. “Because Pennington [Biomedical] is out there administering all these studies, they’re out there trying to ensure that you live a long and happy life.”

Pennington Biomedical is also recruiting diabetics for several other studies, including GRADE and D2D, and participants may be paid for their time and in some cases may receive free medicines. To see if you are eligible to participate, call 225-763-3000 or go to www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA.

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