Toledo, Ohio, bills itself as the "crossroads of America" because the metropolis lies at the busy intersection of interstates 90 and 75. The health of its 300,000 citizens has been at a crossroads as well. This blue-collar city has the highest adult smoking rate in the country—31 percent—and is currently ranked the third-worst city for men by Men's Health magazine. Annual health care costs per Toledo employee are double the national average ($15,000 versus $7,500).
Although the shaky health of Toledoans is prominent in the minds of government and medical leaders in that community, it's also been a major concern for Tony Scott, senior pastor of The Church on Strayer in nearby suburb Maumee, Ohio. For more than 20 years, Scott has practiced and promoted balanced living—spiritual, emotional and physical wellness—to his congregation. But he's also wanted to go beyond church walls to see an entire community changed.
Enter health expert Jordan Rubin and a "Holy Toledo!" moment.
In the summer of 2006, Scott invited Rubin, author of New York Times best-seller The Maker's Diet, to speak at The Church on Strayer (formerly known as the Cathedral of Praise). During the weekend, Scott and Rubin discussed their mutual desire to see the health of Toledo residents improve. As they exchanged ideas, they developed a vision to help people make a U-turn in their lives and lose weight, improve their fitness and maintain a healthier lifestyle. "Having a healthy body and soul is just as important as having a healthy spirit," Scott says. "So when I met Jordan it just really fit in with everything we've been doing for 20 years."
The "Healthy Toledo" initiative, as it came to be called, involved a wellness program addressing diet and nutrition, supplementation, exercise and healthy snacking, as well as practical and spiritual education. By the following spring, the campaign launched with an 11-week pilot program at the church. This wasn't just another weight-loss competition. Scott and Rubin wanted to truly transform lives.
"The results have been phenomenal—just beyond imagination," Scott says. And the numbers back up his assessment. In less than 11 weeks, 126 participants lost more than 1,700 pounds, improved their blood pressure and decreased their body fat and Body Mass Index (BMI). Though the overall average weight loss was 13.5 pounds, some individuals lost more than 40 pounds in less than three months. In fact, the top 50 participants lost an average of 23 pounds. Overall waist measurements dropped by an average of 3.1 inches (5.5 inches for women). Average body fat decreased by 15 percent, while 77 percent of those in the program significantly reduced their blood pressure.
Equally as important were the "intangible" results reported by more than 100 of the participants. Among those:
• 69 percent said they felt more refreshed upon waking, and 43 percent said it was easier for them to fall asleep.
• 65 percent claimed they had more energy, while 49 percent said they had fewer aches and pains.
• 75 percent stated that they were healthier, and 50 percent felt happier.
• 43 percent reported a decrease in symptoms of abdominal distension, such as gas or bloating, while 42 percent experienced a decrease in occasional heartburn.
• 30 percent believed their immune system had improved.
Built to Grow
Possibly the best results have been those that keep multiplying. As more individuals join the Healthy Toledo campaign, the data continues to grow. Many of those who went through the pilot program are still losing weight (as much as 70 pounds, according to Scott), while newer participants are finding similar success.
The Church on Strayer recently began another four-month program that is slightly more intense, and the campaign is expanding through the dozens of "hubs" throughout the entire city. Under the direction of team leader Dr. Tom Baur, these hubs will allow participants to meet in small groups and create interaction between participants, businesses and community centers. They also incorporate the various aspects of the program, including Bible studies, workout programs and nutritional education.
"We're doing the community aspect of Healthy Toledo right now," Scott says. "We're taking it into various YMCAs and setting up hubs. We're going to continue to broaden it until we make the church the healthiest church in America and make the city the healthiest city in America."
The dramatic results aren't going unnoticed, either. Besides Toledo's mayor endorsing the campaign, local newspapers and TV stations have run stories as well. Scott and Healthy Toledo participant Pat Cannon, who lost 40 pounds during the initial program, were interviewed on a CBS affiliate morning show. Even national publications such as Woman's World, Quick & Simple and First for Women have covered the events.
Meanwhile, inquiries have come in from as far away as Louisiana, Georgia and Oregon about replicating the program. "It seems Ohio cannot contain this movement and for good reason," says Stephen Nepa, who helped Rubin lead the program. "We see the Toledo campaign serving as the blueprint for a nationwide effort called Perfect Weight America, launching in January 2008 with the release of Rubin's new book, Perfect Weight America" (see sidebar).
Regardless of what future cities decide to join the movement, Scott remains committed to tackling Toledo's health issues until he sees a complete turnaround. And in true pastoral form, his underlying purpose behind preaching a balanced lifestyle for 20 years involves more than just leaner bodies and fewer smokers: "If we become as a church disease-free and we get rid of obesity and some of the major heart problems, blood pressure problems, diabetic problems ... if we start doing that as a church, look at the attention that would be focused on the church. ... When you look at [this] and see that it's a biblical message, there's no reason for us not to teach it. And when we teach it, the results of it draw attention to the gospel, so lost people can be reached with this message."
A Pastor's Perfect Weight
"There are so many pastors who aren't healthy, who are overweight, who are on high blood pressure medication, and there's no reason for that," says Tony Scott, senior pastor of The Church on Strayer near Toledo, Ohio. Indeed, pastors are notorious for their high stress levels, lack of exercise and lousy diets—all a result of the time-consuming and taxing demands of ministry.
That may be one reason why pastors are among those targeted by health expert Jordan Rubin in his latest release, Perfect Weight America (Siloam Press). Based on the success of the "Healthy Toledo" initiative, Rubin's book—and nationwide campaign that will run throughout 2008—offers both the details of a 16-week lifestyle program (feasible for pastors) and a counterpoint to change the mind-set of a nation caught in a cycle of fad diets and workout gizmos.
"Perfect Weight America is about making a personal transformation in quantitative categories such as weight loss and reduction of disease risks, as well as qualitative improvements in mental acuity and physical vitality," Rubin says. "When you change your diet, change your life and change your world, you will become much more than you ever thought possible."
For more information and free online tools, visit perfectweightamerica.com.
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