Interventions on diet and physical activity – what works; religious settings

From: World Health Organisation

Journal rating:
rating: 90%
Study Quality:
rating: 10%

Overall Reliability

Article Quality:
rating: 5%
rating: 0%


  • The paper is a review of the existing literature.


  • This report by the World Health Organisation was published in 2009 and was a review of the eligible studies investigating diet and/or physical activity that included human participants and were published in English between January 1995 and June 2006.
  • 937 diet studies were chosen for inclusion and 776 physical activity studies.


Effective Interventions

  1. Culturally appropriate and multi-component diet interventions that:

  • are planned and implemented in collaboration with religious leaders and congregational members using pastoral support and spiritual strategies; and

  • include group education sessions and self-help strategies

Moderately Effective Interventions

  1. Culturally appropriate interventions targeting weight loss, healthy dietary habits and increased physical activity

Example Interventions

  1. The Black Churches for Better Health is a multi-component intervention that recruited 50 churches from 10 counties in disadvantaged communities with at least 30% of participants from a minority population. The primary goal was to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Information from focus groups was used to make the intervention culturally appropriate. Interventions at the individual and community level were based on social theories of behaviour change. Each pastor selected a coordinator as well as three to seven members to form the Nutrition Action Team. After two years, there was an increase of 0.85 daily servings of fruit and vegetables per participant and an increase from 23% to 33% of the sample population consuming five or more servings a day.

  2. Project Joy is a culturally appropriate and multi-component intervention that targeted African-American women of 40 years or older. The intervention, which took place over one year, aimed at fostering a healthy lifestyle through group diet education, physical activity sessions and spiritual strategies. The control group used self-help strategies based on materials from the American Heart Association. The programme built on the social learning theory and sessions were designed to improve participants’ self-efficacy. At the follow-up stage, there was a significant mean weight loss (–1.1 lbs), waist circumference (–0.66 cm), systolic blood pressure (–1.6 mmHg), energy intake (–117 kcal), total fat (–8 g), and sodium (–145 mg) in the intervention group. Further, women in the top 10% for weight loss at one year had even larger (–19.8 lbs), clinically meaningful changes in risk outcome


  1. "Consistent, coherent, simple and clear messages should be prepared and conveyed ... through several channels and in forms appropriate to local culture, age and gender. Behaviour can be influenced especially in ... religious institutions."


  • As per the results above


Editors Notes

  • Noncommunicable diseases (chronic disease which are not passed from person to person) are by far the leading cause of death in the world today, and their impact is steadily growing. In 2005, 35 million people died from NCDs, which represents 60% of the total number of global deaths in that year.
  • A small set of common risk factors is responsible for most of the major noncommunicable diseases: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Elimination of these modifiable risk factors would prevent 80% of premature heart disease, 80% of premature stroke, 80% of type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancer.