Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

First Advisor

Christine Blake


Faith-based studies are becoming more common in research addressing health disparities. Despite the growing interest in churches as partners in research and settings for interventions, church environment and leadership, especially within AA churches, has not been addressed in-depth. This research aimed to understand these influences on congregation behavior within the context of a community-based randomized controlled trial, which utilized a faith-based approach to promote healthy eating and physical activity. In particular, this research involved quantitative characterization of the health messages present within diverse churches. It also involved qualitative methods to explore connections between pastoral and eating identities.

Findings from interviews (n=30) suggest pastors view both pastoral and eating identity as multi-dimensional. These findings also suggest pastors who identify themselves as picky, unhealthy, or overeaters are less likely to identify with the pastoral identity of role model. This relationship may be moderated by a pastor's length of service in his/her church and the building of trust needed in order to be viewed by themselves and their congregation as role models.

Measurement of messages (n=1109) suggests diet and physical activity messages make up a high percentage of health messages. However, a range in frequency of messaging was found across churches. This range along with the type of media used to present messages and source of messages should be taken into consideration by health promotion researchers. Our findings should be expanded by exploring these relationships in additional churches and by incorporating church-level demographics.

Connections between results from pastoral interviews and messages suggest leadership and environment interact to promote diet and physical activity within the church. These findings support previous qualitative findings that meals are a frequent part of church life. Pastoral interviews suggest the content and number of these meals is an area for future intervention. In addition, both data sources found that outreach, especially provision of food to those in need within the local community, is important to the missions of many churches. Future research should continue to explore these connections and build upon our findings in order to change both church and individual level diet and physical activity behaviors.


© 2012, Brook Harmon