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Photo 1: Gil Hanke addresses press conference launching effort to eliminate childhood obesity.

Photo 2: Leaders of civic and religious groups participate in press conference at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –– Children across America may be a little lighter following interfaith efforts led by United Methodist Men.

Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, kicked off the effort in Tennessee during an Oct. 23 event on the playground of West End United Methodist Church. He introduced 15 civic and religious leaders who are participating in the effort. The Nashville event followed a similar launch in in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado.

With children vying for turns on slides and swings behind them, leaders of several denominations joined with executives of civic groups to launch an effort to eliminate childhood obesity.

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese

Vincent Demarco, national coordinator of Faith United to End Childhood Obesity, is working with leaders of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Men and others to fight against this crisis.

“Childhood obesity is a growing threat to our children’s health,” Demarco said, noting that obesity contributes to diabetes and other health problems. “We need to deal with the problem, and it’s a problem that can be dealt with. There are things we can do to make something happen, and the faith community is in one of the best positions of anybody to make something happen.”

“What faith leaders have shown in the areas where we’ve had these events is that they’re motivated, and they want to work on it,” said Demarco.

Hanke said United Methodist Men began work with Demarco and the Faith United Against Tobacco several years ago. 

“Faith United Against Childhood Obesity had an initial meeting here in Nashville to learn about the Coordinated School Health Program in Tennessee,” said Hanke. “A larger meeting was hosted by the General Board of Church and Society in Washington D.C.” 

The coalition includes the African Methodist Episcopal Church; American Baptist Churches; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Episcopal Church; the Evangelical Lutheran Church; the Islamic Society of North America; Seventh Day Adventists; Presbyterian Church USA; United Church of  Christ; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Catholic Charities;the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; and 11 other groups.

“United Methodist Men have a strong interest in this area because we are the connecting point to the UMC for BSA, GSA, 4-H, Campfire USA, and Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Hanke. “We also have a long relationship with the Society of St. Andrew, the agency that provides fresh produce to the poor” ( ).

The anti-obesity effort is linked with “Let’s Move” (, a comprehensive initiative, launched by Michelle Obama.

The website offers free print materials on ways to help children grow up healthier. Let’s Move! materials may also be  distributed as part of a newsletter, web site post, or to attendees of an event or rally.

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