by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
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.