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“Pastor Michael Minor stirred a bit of controversy at his northwest Mississippi church when he banned fried chicken from the fellowship hall,” reports Colleen Jenkins for the British news service Reuters.

After all, fried chicken is considered by some to be just short of a sacrament, particularly in the South. The traditional meal to serve the pastor and his family for Sunday dinner is fried chicken.

But convinced that faith communities need to step up their efforts against obesity, Pastor Minor is now urging fellow congregations nationwide to make the health of their members a priority, writes Jenkins:

“Our bodies are not our own. They’re a gift from God,” he said. “We should do a better job with our bodies.”

Church leaders across the country agree. A pastor in San Antonio, Texas, last month kicked off a 100-day challenge that pairs faith with fat-fighting. A church in Tampa, Florida, hosted classes on healthier eating. Others have instituted “Salad Sundays,” community gardens and exercise programs.

The wellness push comes at an opportune time, with recent reports showing Americans keep getting heavier. The problem is particularly worrisome in the South, the region with the country’s highest adult obesity rates.

Public health experts say faith communities, with their long records of tending to the sick and driving social change, are in a unique position to help tackle the obesity epidemic and the severe health problems associated with it.

“Churches are a foundation in the community,” said Victor Sutton, director of the Office of Preventive Health for the Mississippi state health department.

“Sometimes you can have a doctor tell someone something, and they’ll blow it off,” he said. “A pastor can tell someone what to do, and they’ll take it as a scientific fact.”

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