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What is the Certified Healthy Congregation Program?

The Certified Healthy Congregation Program was created in 2014 to accompany six additional Certified Healthy Oklahoma programs: Business, Campus, Community, Early Childhood, Restaurant, and School. The program is administered by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

This certification recognizes all faith traditions in Oklahoma that are working to improve the health of their congregations and surrounding communities. This can be accomplished by providing wellness opportunities and adhering to policies, covenants, and/or rules that lead to healthier lifestyles.

Why Does “Certified Healthy” Matter?

Becoming a Certified Healthy Congregation signifies that you are providing a healthy environment for congregants, as well as the local community. Applying for certification also allows congregations an opportunity to assess the level of health promotion activities available and determine if additional activities would be beneficial to members. By meeting most or all of the criteria to become certified healthy, congregations can be confident that they are incorporating strategies that have been proven to motivate people to make change and take on healthy habits.

Congregations’ Impact on Health Behaviors

Congregations are major influencers that cultivate the lives of its members and surrounding communities. Community health education and promotion within the church setting is becoming more popular, and may be particularly useful among those with a strong faith in their church (e.g., African Americans)1.

The power of congregations is evident by their strength in numbers. Oklahoma has a population of about 3.9 million people2 and according to a 2010 report by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) approximately 2 million regularly attend religious services3. If we are to improve health, limit suffering from chronic diseases (such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease), and decrease the rates of early deaths in Oklahoma it is imperative to work with our 6,000 plus congregations. Partnerships to address health behaviors such as tobacco use, lack of physical activity, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and alcohol abuse, which are the leading cause of chronic diseases4, are essential.

In Oklahoma, seven out of every ten adults5 and over one-third of adolescents6 are considered overweight and obese, and 1 in 5 adults are current smokers5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical costs for both obesity and tobacco use are in the billions7. Specifically, obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion per year8 while smoking costs the U.S. $170 billion per year9.

Figure 1: Congregational Influence on Health Behaviors10, 11, 12

(Adapted from the social ecological model  for health promotion)

Community/Society LevelCongregations advocating for health improvements within neighborhoods and surrounding communities.
Organizational (Congregation) LevelCovenant, rules, and/or policies within congregational settings. Promoting tobacco free, nutrition, and physical activity policies.
Major InfluencerHealth messages by religious leaders within the context of one’s own faith.
Interpersonal LevelParticipation in health promotion programs that provides support and motivation for improved health.
Intrapersonal LevelIndividual health beliefs in relation to religious beliefs.

Improving these health outcomes is multi-layered and needs to be addressed at various levels; from intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, and community/societal. The criterion for the Certified Healthy Congregation program spans these levels. This allows for the incorporation of proven public health approaches, directed at policy and environmental strategies, to reach large numbers of people and influence the improvement of health at multiple levels. Congregations have the potential to be instrumental in promoting healthy behaviors with their worshipers and surrounding communities, ensuring long-lasting lives free from chronic ailments.


1 Harmon BE et al. 2014. Health Care Information in African-American Churches. Journal of Health Care for Poor and Underserved. February; 25(1): 242–256. doi:10.1353/hpu.2014.0047.

2 United States Census Bureau. 2018. Oklahoma Population Estimates. Available at

3 Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study (2010) State File. Available at

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. About Chronic Diseases. Available at

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2017. Oklahoma Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS). Available at

6 Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. 2017. Percent of Children (ages 10-17) Who are Overweight or Obese: Oklahoma. Available at,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases. Available at

8 Finkelstein EA et al. 2009. Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates. Health Affairs 28(5):w822-31.

9 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Economic Trends in Tobacco. Available at

10 Campbell, M.K, et al. (2007). Church-Based Health Promotion Interventions: Evidence and Lessons Learned. The Annual Review of Public Health; 28:231-34.

11 Anshel, M.H. and Smith, M. (2014). The Role of Religious Leaders in Promoting Healthy Habits in Religious Institutions. Journal of Religious Health; 53:1046-1059.

12 Asomugha, C.N., Derose, K.P., and Lurie, N. (2011). Faith-Based Organizations, Science, and the Pursuit of Health. Journal of Health Care for Poor and Underserved; 22(1):50-55.