As a Black person living in America and a woman of faith, I am proud of the role that the church still plays in the African American community. It has been the backbone of our community for hundreds of years, and is deeply interwoven into the fabric of many of our lives.
In fact, whether you are in a conversation within the grocery story or watching the latest awards show, the acknowledgment and gratitude for God’s abundance and grace is very clear—and something I also take deep pride in.
However, on the other hand, as a practicing gynecologist who works in a major metropolitan city, I can’t help but notice that many of my African American patients are overweight and have multiple medical problems. The statistics confirm this. African American men and women are more likely to have hypertension and 50% are more likely to die of heart disease or stroke prematurely than our White counterparts. We have more diabetes and are more likely to be overweight and obese.
Sure, some of this can be explained by disparities in health care delivery and socioeconomic status, (and I certainly do not mean to discount the influence of those factors), but not all of it. We each have a very important role to play in our own life and our health and sadly I am convinced that we do not treat our role with the respect it deserves—or the time and attention we give to other things of significance, like the church.
Ironically, many of the women that I treat are strong in their church and some even pastor congregations and, if asked, most are probably familiar with the passage “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (Corinthians 6:19-20)
While in the context it was referring to sexual immorality, surely the writer did not mean that is was acceptable to us to abuse our bodies in other ways. As a community of faith, it is our responsibility to treat our body like a temple. We are not doing so when we overeat, fill our bodies with unhealthy food or drink (and I am not necessarily referring to excess alcohol), fail to keep active or fail to allow our bodies enough rest and relaxation.
As someone who is on the front lines of the health epidemic in our community, my question is this: how do we encourage each other to nurture our bodies in this way? Yes, food is a very important part of our culture, it is at the center of our celebrations, our mourning and our comfort. But how do we utilize our faith to put it at the center of our vitality?
Do we make an effort to introduce more healthful foods to our community knowing that it can not only allow us to feel better when we avoid over indulgence but that we are improving our health and lengthening our lives? Or, do we place a bigger emphasis on what it means to walk in faith and treat our bodies as the temples that they are?
The scientific evidence is overwhelming that regardless of our genes, how we eat and take care of or bodies can significantly reduce our risk of disease, including Alzheimer’s, and lengthen our lives. Let us love ourselves enough to take care of not only our spirit but also our mind and body.
Dr. Monique Rainford is a medical doctor specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.