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 the Advancement of Wellness and Oklahoma Turning Point Council. 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 communities1. Lessons taught through congregations prepare its members for life’s ups and downs1. As our state moves forward with improving the health of all Oklahomans, it is vital to acknowledge the role congregations play1. This improvement is dependent on influencing the health behaviors of individuals and communities.

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 services*3. 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, two out of every three adults5 and 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, 8. It is estimated that obesity attributable expenditures in U.S, and Oklahoma are $147 billion and $1,72 billion respectively and the Surgeon General’s Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress reports states that direct medical costs for smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke is $130 billion8 (in Oklahoma, smoking related healthcare expenditures are around $1.62 billion9).

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

(Adapted from the social ecological model  for health promotion)

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

Improving these health outcomes is multi-layered and needs to be addressed at various levels7; 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 strategies7, 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 Healthy Congregation Manual. (2011). Oklahoma State Department of Health.

2 2017 Oklahoma population estimates.  www.census.gov.

3 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study (2010) State File. Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). http://thearda.com/rcms2010/r/s/40/rcms2010_40_state_adh_2010.asp. Retrieved May 2015. *Note: does not include complete information for the eight predominately African American denominations.

4 Chronic Disease Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm. Retrieved May 2015.

5 2016 Oklahoma Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.health.ok.gov/ok2share.

6 2017 Oklahoma Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. http://www.health.ok.gov/ok2share.

7 Trogdon, J. G., Finkelstein, E. A., Feagan, C. W. and Cohen, J. W. (2012), State- and Payer-Specific Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity. Obesity, 20: 214–220. doi:10.1038/oby.2011.169

8 The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. (2014). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/50-years-of-progress/Fact-sheet.html. Retrieved June 2015.

9 Toll of Tobacco in Oklahoma. (updated June 20, 2018). Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/facts_issues/toll_us/oklahoma. Retrieved July 2018.

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.