Program Gets African American Churches to Compete ‘Body & Soul’ For Better Health

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the American Cancer Society are teaming up with churches around the state to improve the health of African Americans. Churches in Grand Rapids, Flint, and southeast Michigan are taking a stand and consciously choosing a healthier lifestyle by competing in Body & Soul and the Blues Community Challenge.

Body & Soul is a health program developed by the American Cancer Society specifically for African-American churches. The program empowers church members to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables by providing resources, education and information about nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits.

Circles of Influence

The program recognizes the powerful role of the church in black communities.

“The African-American church is one of the most (if not the most) trusted institution in the African-American community,” said the Rev. Dallas Lenear of New Hope Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. “Inspiration and information from pastors and church leaders are generally well-received. When local pastors join forces around a common goal, the entire community takes notice.”

African Americans have their own set of challenges with chronic diseases and health disparities:

  • Roughly 40 percent of African American men in Michigan will not live past their 65th birthday.
  • African American women are more likely to die from heart disease than women of other races.
  • African Americans of both genders are much more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.

BCBSM provides the physical activity component of the program through an online tool that helps participants log how many minutes of exercise they’re getting each day, with the minutes then translated into mileage. The churches whose members log the most walking miles by the end of the challenge are awarded grant money to support health ministry efforts.

“We are working with our community partners to identify and address health disparities,” said Bridget Hurd, director of Community Responsibility for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We find it is most effective to work with organizations that are already involved in the community and recognized as leaders and decision-makers; this helps us in our efforts to improve the health status of Michigan residents in communities throughout the state.”

It Takes a Village

The goal is to empower people to take personal responsibility for their health.

“I just jumped on board because I needed to lose some weight,” said Lynn Gleton, a participant of Body & Soul and the Blues’ Challenge in Detroit last year. “That was the driving force, and then I found out I have high blood pressure, so I am trying to do some things to lower my blood pressure. That’s why I was excited about the walking part of the program.”

With the U.S. spending more than ever on chronic disease like those listed above, every step counts. The Blues’ Community Challenge gives members from churches that are participating in American Cancer Society’s Body & Soul program an extra incentive to get moving. Challenges begin at churches in the following three communities:

  • Southeast Michigan: May 6- July 28
  • Grand Rapids: May 5 – July 28
  • Flint: August – October

Learn more about the ACS Body & Soul program at Or check out a video about last year’s program, below.


Lions Fans Add Pink to Honolulu Blue, Silver as Breast Cancer Awareness Hits Monday Night Football

Ford Field underwent a pink-out as the Detroit Lions beat the Chicago Bears 24-13 in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game. Many spectators in the crowd of 67,861 — a Lions Ford Field record — waved bright pink “Curable” towels that Blue Cross distributed in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Blues also presented a $10,000 donation to the American Cancer Society before the game.

Below is a roundup of news coverage about the promotional event and a slideshow of photos from Ford Field. And don’t forget to share your story of surviving breast cancer at Making Strides on A Healthier Michigan.

WXYZ-TV reporter Smita Kalokhe: “Now it is all about the Honolulu blue, but it is also all about pink today. Very important message that we are sending here and let me tell you, real men wear pink.”

Detroit News: The Curable Towel, modeled after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terrible Towel, will be distributed free to the first 50,000 fans at Ford Field, who will be encouraged to wave them on national television to advocate for breast cancer awareness, the National Football League’s pet cause in October. It also is the first marketing hit for a new Metro Detroit fundraising effort.

The towel makes Detroit stand out, said Stephen McDaniel, an associate professor at University of Maryland and a consumer psychologist who studies sports marketing and fan behavior.

“This is so unique because in addition to the players sporting pink, now the fans are involved,” he said. “Teams are always looking how to enhance the fan experience, and this satisfies that in a big way, plus it’s tied to a worthy cause.”

Freep: As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will supply 50,000 bright pink towels to fans inside the downtown Detroit stadium for tonight’s game.

The towels are meant to raise awareness about the importance of breast cancer screenings. Fans are urged to wave the towels during the nationally televised game.

Crain’s Detroit Business: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is supplying 50,000 bright pink towels as part of a partnership between the Lions and the health insurer. Both organizations will honor breast cancer survivors. The Blues also will make a $10,000 donation to the American Cancer Society.

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Body & Soul BLUE Challenge entrants mark the midpoint with an outpouring of spirit

Only the serious showed up at Fuller Park in Grand Rapids on our recent squishy Sept. 11. But, they were enough.

The hardy band of cold, damp souls I met at the park was there to mark the midpoint of this year’s Body & Soul BLUE Challenge, a three-month wellness competition between 11 African-American faith communities around the city. The Blues are co-sponsors of the Challenge along with the American Cancer Society. Participants had free massages awaiting them in the park, a Zumba® warm-up, rows of health and fitness vendors, a group walk to the Fulton Street Farmers Market and discount tokens for the goods they’d find there.

That persistent rain had no chance of causing a wash-out. There was too much heart there for that to happen.

And, if you’re unsure about that, just check out this from that day:

Or consider that participants in last year’s Challenge, which was won by Ms. Moody, who you’ll meet in the video, and her husband Rev. Nathaniel’s church, logged a whopping 167,000 miles. About 49,000 of those miles were from members of Moody’s Brown Hutcherson Ministries alone.

Considering the date, an observer couldn’t help but think a lot about transformation as he walked around the park. I asked everyone I spoke to that day whether they were seeing lives being changed and every one of them came back with an emphatic yes.

Holding such an event in the African-American community makes a certain amount of sense. It’s true that many African- Americans are at high risk for many serious and often fatal diseases, some of it lifestyle-driven, some of it not.

But, I quickly found out that there was much more at work here. The bulk of the conversation that came back to me that day was about how taking care of the body is a spiritual act in itself. Others talked about having a responsibility to their spiritual selves to be as fit as they can be. “Bringing together the health and well-being of whole communities,” BCBSM’s Cle Jackson called it.

This year’s Body & Soul Challenge will end Oct. 2 at the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute Rhythm Run at Martin Luther King Park in Grand Rapids.

But, in a more important sense, Body & Soul won’t end that day … or on any other. It can’t, really.

People were changed through their participation, this year and last. Transformed.

I saw fuller lives at Fuller Park. It’s tough to go back once you’ve been there.