Date of Conferral





Public Health


Michael Schwab


While obesity is a nationwide phenomenon, African Americans - especially women - continue to be more severely affected than any other ethnic group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20% of African American women are obese compared to 15.6% of Caucasian women. The church is an important community center for many African Americans, and is often a site for health promotion programs, though little is known of the effectiveness of these programs. The purpose of this qualitative study was to study the experiences and attitudes of African American women who have gone through a church-based weight-loss program. Questions were asked about the cultural, environmental and social barriers to weight loss, and the components of effective church-based weight loss programs. Using a phenomenological approach, this study was designed to capture new data for the development of sustainable church-based weight-loss programs. The theory of social support was used as a theoretical framework. The major themes arising from the data concerned the importance of: (a) social support on all levels; (b) the involvement of the pastor, his spouse, or other church leadership; (c) the inclusion of weight-loss participants in program design; (d) a holistic program design to meet the needs of the entire family; and (e) a culturally sensitive program. The inclusion of all these elements is recommended for future programs. The social change implication is that these recommendations could be helpful in the design, development, and implementation of sustainable church-based weight-loss programs for African American women.