As the pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Baltimore, Franklin Lance, D. Min, spends time counseling people who want to live their brightest lives, but his message underwent a powerful shift when he found himself on the other end of some good advice. His doctor told him that if he wanted to watch his son grow up, he’d need to lose weight.
His desire to be a part of his son’s life inspired him to lose weight and get healthier, and kept him dedicated to what he calls “a paradigm shift in life, a true change”: He started exercising regularly; began eating “clean” foods such as lean meats, fruits and veggies; and switched up the size and frequency of his meals, favoring smaller portions several times a day. Pastor Lance shed 50 pounds over the course of a year and a half, but he felt the benefits quickly: His aches and pains went away, and he felt “more energy and drive. At 52, I’d say I’m in the best shape of my life.” He has a renewed sense of hope for a long, healthy life – a hope he wants to share with others, especially people in his community.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans have of the highest rates of obesity in the country. There are many health risks associated with obesity: diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease and stroke, as well as osteoarthritis. Knowing this gave Pastor Lance’s ministry – which has often touched on health issues – greater urgency. “Spiritual leaders are responsible for the holistic needs of the people that we serve: mind, body and soul,” he says.
As a key partner of the PATIENTS (PATient-centered Involvement in Evaluating the effectiveNess of TreatmentS) program – a unique initiative designed to get patients and other members of the community more engaged with healthcare research – Pastor Lance understands the power of outreach. He finds that economic issues are often entwined with healthcare, and making a path out of the urban “food deserts” (areas where cheap, processed foods are more easily available, and cost-effective, than healthier foods) is essential for what he describes as a “community shift” toward better health. He also wants to reverse the cultural myths about weight loss among African Americans, especially the idea that it can’t be done (or sustained), and spread his message that, with motivation and hard work, anyone can achieve a healthier lifestyle. Some changes are easy and immediate, like drinking more water, taking the time to walk, or making savvier decisions at the check-out line – even if we don’t have the money for kale chips, he says, we don’t have to buy the Lay’s potato chips.
Pastor Lance knows that keeping the weight off will take discipline and dedication. “It’s always in my mind,” he says. But every day of healthy living is another day to share with his son.