African-American church challenge helps members get fit, Body and Soul

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and American Cancer Society launch event at Rhythm Run rally

October 2, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS - Churches in Grand Rapids, African-American communities will compete against each other in a three-month fitness challenge designed to encourage congregation members to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is partnering with the American Cancer Society to kick off its Body and Soul Blue Challenge health and wellness initiative at the second annual 5K Rhythm Run/Walk, an event spearheaded by the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute and sponsored by BCBSM. The Rhythm Run takes place Oct. 3, with a rally the night before at West Michigan Caterer, 15 Jefferson Avenue (corner of Fulton), 6-8 p.m.; to announce the Body and Soul Blue Challenge, a faith-based health and wellness initiative.

Both events support the American Cancer Society's and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's shared mission of encouraging healthy behavior and decreasing the incidence of illnesses that could be prevented with improved nutrition and active lifestyles throughout the community.

"These initiatives also demonstrate our commitment to addressing health disparities by building strategic partnerships within minority communities," said Cle Jackson, BCBSM's senior community liaison in west Michigan. "We find that it's 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."

Ten churches in the Grand Rapids area are participating in the American Cancer Society's Body & Soul program, a wellness program designed especially for African-American churches. The goal of the program is to encourage church members to eat more fruits and vegetables for better health. Body & Soul Blue works by combining pastoral leadership, educational activities, a church environment which supports healthy eating, and peer counseling. Church members gain access to vital health information and feel empowered to take charge of their health.

The fitness challenge begins Oct. 3 and ends on Jan. 3. Health appraisals will be used to measure improvements in the health of participants over the course of the program, including changes in blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, knowledge and behavior.

"The American Cancer Society and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan have formed a tremendous partnership through the Body & Soul Blue challenge with many of the African-American churches in our area to reach out to the community's underserved populations," said Crystal Parish, community representative for the American Cancer Society. "Grand Rapids is fortunate to have such a strong champion for healthy lifestyles as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and this initiative is sure to raise awareness of the importance of eating right and being active, some of the most important factors in decreasing mortality and preventing life-threatening illnesses such as cancer."

For the walking component of the challenge, BCBSM will be sharing the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association's popular online WalkingWorks® program to help churches track the physical activity of their congregations. Each participating church will log its mileage and compete against each other for distance.; The competing churches are grouped in categories based on congregation size.

The three churches that are most successful in meeting the health and wellness challenge in their size category will receive monetary awards.

The Blues' involvement with the Rhythm Run/Walk and Body & Soul Blue Challenge is part of a broader effort to help Michigan residents, particularly children, improve health status, and embrace wellness and prevention. For example, BCBSM provided grant funding to the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine to develop a $1 million health initiative called "FIT" earlier this year. Four schools in Grand Rapids were selected as the focus for FIT, which is aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

One of the many local organizations involved with FIT, Grand Valley State University will be lending a hand at the Grand Rapids Body & Soul Blue Challenge event by facilitating health education classes and screenings.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit organization, provides and administers health benefits to 4.7 million members residing in Michigan, in addition to members of Michigan-headquartered groups who reside outside the state. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network are nonprofit corporations and independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more company information, visit

The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation's largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit

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