The Eat Healthy and Be Active programme (EHBA) is spreading throughout the Church in the Pacific. Now, with diabetes as the key humanitarian focus, the Church has already donated a phenomenal amount of time, money and resources in the way of support and treatment for people with diabetes and associated complications arising from the disease. However, the extent of the effects of this disease in the Pacific and the tragedy of late interventions leading to amputations and deaths have inspired Hans Sorensen, Pacific Area welfare manager, to shift more of the emphasis to education and prevention.
“In 2014, no one in our strategy meeting came from a medical background, but still we settled on diabetes as our chief humanitarian focus,” Hans said. “The area had not taken on a task of this magnitude before and we had no history to follow. I believe it was inspiration that led us down this path.”
The humanitarian team had to learn all they could about diabetes and try to understand what was happening in the Pacific. Diabetes is a worldwide problem, but in poorer economies
—and with Polynesians, Melanesians and Micronesians having a higher predisposition to the disease—it is more likely to be fatal.
After the team met with Ministers of Health, doctors, specialists, nurses and other NGOs, it was clear to them that diabetes was getting out of hand. A prevention intervention was desperately needed.
In 2016 the Eat Healthy and Be Active programme was born. Extensive research was done.
Focus groups were held across the Church in the Pacific, and the findings were analysed by a professor at BYU. A prevention manual was written with a Pacific look and feel, which brought together the doctrine of the Word of Wisdom, words of Church leaders and medical science. The programme gives participants information necessary to make informed choices regarding food and physical activity to reduce the risk of diabetes, while tracking personal progress over the 12-week course.
With great success with the pilot programme and a few amendments to the manual, EHBA was officially launched in August 2018. Around 40 stakes across the area picked up the programme immediately and have seen amazing results.
President Morgan Jones of the MacArthur stake in New South Wales saw a great need for the program in his stake.
“There’s too much of an attitude amongst some of the members that vegetables aren’t food,” he said. “We’ve had far too many of our members succumb to diabetes. The effects of the disease are so negative, something needed to be done.”
Eager to set an example for his stake, President Jones decided to sign up himself.
“I’ve put on 30kg since being called as the stake president,” he said, laughing. “The wonderful members of the Samoan ward feed me very well.”
With a doctor on hand to test blood sugar levels and blood pressure, the program was launched at the stake centre.
“I got the highest score for blood pressure,” President Jones confessed. “Some of our members were in the two-hundreds and were immediately sent off to the doctors. It was very eye opening.”
Starting a little earlier than everyone else, President Jones lost 18kg in weight and 10cm from his waist.
“My blood pressure is perfect,” he shared. “I feel healthier, happier, less lethargic, and the pain in my knees, which was just starting to become a problem, has gone.”
President Jones felt that the program was very well structured. “It was intelligent, moderate and very doable,” he said.
He plans to continue the program himself and encourage all the members of his stake to join in.
“Even those who are not obese should do the program and avoid diabetes in the first place.”
This inspired programme has caught the attention of many health professionals both inside and outside of the Church.
Hans Sorenson said, “I had a GP [general practitioner] ask if she could have the manuals for her waiting room; and every time I’ve shared the manual with Ministry of Health officials across the Pacific, they’ve all wanted a copy.
“One medical NGO has taken our manual, adapted it for a secular audience and is training other churches in Tonga to use it. A team of Seventh-day Adventist medical doctors in Fiji want to use the manual despite the fact they have their own health improvement programme that has been running for 30 years. The response has been nothing short of miraculous.”