Thought Factory Podcast #103 || Theology of Pizza & Hummus

In episode #103, we discuss the lack of discussion on the topic of physical health in the circles of youth ministry and the church in general.  Is food a key component to our obedience to God? Should food have more of a central role in our relationship with Jesus?  Are we adequately addressing the issue of “physical health” with the students we lead? Is food a key component to our obedience to God?  Is it something we should have more central in our relationship with following after Jesus than what we feel like it currently is?

Are we adequately addressing the issue of “physical health” with our students?

First, let’s define what we mean when we say “health,” as we don’t mean skinny or the “world’s view” of health.

The English word “health” comes from the Old English word hale, meaning “wholeness, being whole, sound or well.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) definition of health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

The definition has not been amended since 1948.

When we talk about health, we mean an optimal state where our bodies are what God wants them to be.

We took a look at the national picture of health amongst students.

Only one in five millennials — ages 18 to 34 — have tried the iconic double-decker burger, the Wall Street Journal reports.  Do you agree with those stats?

According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 13.9 percent of high school students were obese, and an additional 16.0 percent were overweight.

High School Students rate of obesity by state at the highest rate (18.9%), the lowest rate (10.3%), and the state we are from (Michigan).

#1 state: Mississippi // 18.9%
#37 state: Montana // 10.3%
#13: Michigan // 14.3%

Don’t ask us why the study only looks at the top 37 states instead of all 50…

One thing we found was that ALL states are trending up in teen obesity rates.  A 2012 study states childhood obesity has quadrupled from 5% to 21% in the last 30 years for 12-19-year-olds.

You can read more from a previous blog post about the temptation students have with food.

We asked these questions of 3000 students:

How do you feel about your own state of health?

Very Healthy // 41%
Somewhat Healthy // 43%
Neither Healthy or Unhealthy // 12%
Unhealthy // 3%
Very Unhealthy // 1%

When you hear about the topic of personal health, do you:

Feel Motivated // 36%
Feel Indifferent // 31%
Feel Encouraged // 24%
Feel Ashamed // 9%

But when we asked ADULTS the same questions and to answer them in a way they thought how the students in their context would answer, we got these responses:

How do you feel about your own state of health?

Very Healthy // 13%
Somewhat Healthy // 61%
Neither Healthy or Unhealthy // 20%
Unhealthy // 5%
Very Unhealthy // 1%

When you hear about the topic of personal health, do you:

Feel Motivated // 10%
Feel Indifferent // 61%
Feel Encouraged // 10%
Feel Ashamed // 19%

There appears to be a disparity between adults and students’ responses.  Students feel healthy (41%) adults don’t think students feel healthy (13%).

Our take is that adults don’t know how students feel about their own health, especially when 61% of adults think students feel indifferent about their health.  Sixty percent of students are also encouraged/motivated when they hear about the topic of health, but only 20% of adults think students are encouraged/motivated.

The question is how does this mentality influence our ministry?
Overall, students had higher numbers of feeling generally positive about health; about 80% of adults perceive students to have a negative view of health.

In response to a survey we did in 2014, we asked the question “Which one thing about food is a temptation for you?”

Top answer was ‘eating unhealthy’ at 39%

Next top answer was ‘eating too much’ at 24%

Combined 63% of students have an unhealthy relationship with food and according to the 2016 survey, 19% of students feel ashamed about their health.  So, we still need to be careful when we talk about health with our students.

Are students hearing about health from their spiritual leaders?

Often (1x a month or more) // 9%
Somewhat often (3-4x a year) // 19%
Seldom (1-2x a year) // 22%
Rarely (1-2x ever) // 32%
Never (Zero times) // 18%

So, 72% of students seldom, rarely, or never hear about health from their spiritual leaders.

What about the environments that we control, as ministry leaders at camp, a retreat, or youth group party…

Can you afford to eat healthily?
Does the church budget around healthy eating?
Does your budget match your theology?
Do you have healthy foods & higher costs (thus fewer students) or cheap food & lower costs (thus more students)?
What theological message are we sending about the food we offer at our ministry gatherings?