Exploration of Facilitators, Barriers and Opportunities for Faith-Based Organizations to Implement Nutrition and Physical Activity Programs and Partner with Virginia's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education
Poor diet and physical inactivity contribute to excessive weight and related diseases in the United States. Given the increasing rates of adult overweight and obesity among Americans, there is a need to develop and implement effective prevention and treatment strategies to decrease the public health burden of obesity-related chronic diseases. Faith-based organizations (FBOs) provide a unique setting and partnership opportunity for delivering evidence-based programs into communities that can be sustained. The federally funded Virginia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) delivered through Virginia Tech's Cooperative Extension and Family Nutrition Program, utilizes evidence-based programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity among limited income populations. The Virginia SNAP-Ed Volunteer Led Nutrition Education Initiative uses SNAP-Ed agents and educators to reach limited income populations by training and coordinating volunteers from communities to deliver nutrition education programs. However, these partnerships and training initiatives have been underutilized in FBOs across Virginia. This dissertation research describes four studies conducted to better understand how to facilitate collaborative partnerships and health-promotion programming initiatives between academic/extension educators and FBOs to build capacity and inform future initiatives within VCE. Study one conducted a literature review to examine FBO characteristics and multi-level strategies used to implement nutrition and physical activity interventions. Study two examined VCE SNAP-Ed agents' perspectives on FBO partnerships to deliver health programming. Study three assessed three FBOs and their member health needs to identify policies, systems and environments to support healthy lifestyles. Study four examined the acceptability of Faithful Families, a faith-based nutrition and physical activity program delivered in a rural church, and explored ways to build capacity for program sustainability through input from stakeholder partners. Results across studies yielded information which helped to identify and prioritize strategies for promoting FBO partnerships within VCE and helped to generate questions that merit further investigation to identify specific culturally relevant strategies for promoting health in FBOs. This exploratory body of research contributes to the field by describing relevant opportunities for academic sectors to partner with FBOs using participatory approaches to increase partnership readiness and build capacity to carry out and sustain health programs within faith settings.