A recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General revealed that a large number of America’s youth – 600,000 middle school students and three million high school students – smoke cigarettes. At best, this information is disturbing, not only because it shows that progress made over the last decade to reduce youth smoking rates is slowing down, but also because smoking claims the lives of 1,200 Americans every day – putting our nation’s youth and young adult smokers at increased risk of early death and disability.
The Surgeon General’s report highlighted that a young person’s decision to smoke is influenced by social and environmental factors. These include peer pressure; exposure to smoking in movies, video games, on websites, and in their communities; and the influence of social leaders who practice the behavior.
Thankfully, places of worship in North Carolina are stepping up in a big way to improve the lives of youth by modeling healthy behaviors and offering special programs. In addition to addressing health as a faith issue from the pulpit, serving healthier church meals, and coordinating focus days on health, congregations are also going tobacco-free and hosting youth events on tobacco prevention. Some pastors even model good health from the pulpit by not smoking and maintaining a healthy BMI.
To illustrate, Oak Grove African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Erwin recently held a smoking cessation forum for its members. Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Laurinburg has partnered with Youth Empowered Solutions’ Healthy Vessels Program to promote healthy behaviors among youth. Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem offers periodic Sunday School lessons on diet, exercise and quitting bad habits. And Cameron Grove African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Broadway is a member of the Lee County Community Action Network, advocating for public policy change in such areas as health care access, tobacco use prevention, nutrition and physical activity.
Places of worship in North Carolina understand the value of protecting the health of our youth and all North Carolinians. May they serve as a positive example for us all.
-Willona Stallings, Program Coordinator, Partners in Health and Wholeness