The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to: “Protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. The Office of Minority Health and Disparities Elimination furthers this mission by ensuring those populations which are at greater risk and have worse health outcomes than other populations have access to resources and opportunities to improve health and prosperity.
Tennessee not only lags behind other states regarding incidence and prevalence of disease but also in areas of self-care and preventive behaviors such as nutrition, physical activity, mental hygiene, and engaging in risky behaviors. For example, Tennessee is ranked 47th in the nation for cancer related deaths, 46th for diabetes and 45th in physical activity. In fact, Tennessee is ranked 42nd overall in health as compared to other states. Not only do Tennessee not rank well compared to other states, everyone in the state doesn’t have equal access to resources and opportunities to live well such as access to health care, nutritious food or a safe place to be physically active.
Many population groups across Tennessee have higher rates of disease and a lack of well-being as compared to other groups. These disparities can be found between different racial and ethnic groups, different age groups and different geographic locations. For example, African-American men are almost twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as Caucasian men while African-American women die from breast cancer at a rate one and a half times greater than Caucasian women. The rate of Caucasians dying in rural counties is higher than that of their urban counterparts.
Though multiple factors contribute to our health and prosperity, over half of these factors can be attributed to lifestyle and behavior. By changing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, one can prevent disease, improve overall health and prosperity. However, making such changes requires knowledge, motivation and support. Over half of Tennesseans affiliate with faith communities and identify religious and spiritual practices and faith communities as an important part of their lives. Faith communities are seen as places of learning, support, trust and transformation. Within these faith communities, individuals and faith leaders can be agents of change for the entire congregation, including transforming not only the spiritual health but physical, mental and social health as well.
Recognizing this characteristic of faith communities, the Office of Minority Health and Disparities Elimination’s Faith-Based Initiative of the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has introduced training for congregants to become certified Health Ambassadors. These Health Ambassadors will serve as a trusted resource and health champion within his or her congregation and will promote health through programs and partnering with the Tennessee Department of Health.
“Eat of the good things which We have provided for you” -Quran 2:173
“Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth” – Quran 2:168
The Muslim Women’s Council founder, Aisha Lbhalla was selected into a diverse group of only twenty five from a large pool of applicants to become one of Tennessee’s first ever Health Ambassadors. Other participants represent the following faiths: Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, Islam, American/Missionary Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, Non-Denominational, Nazarene and Southern Baptist.
The training will focus on a dynamic, whole person wellness model. The whole person wellness model will allow participants to raise their wellness awareness, enhance their own self-care and improve their level of personal well-being as well as how to present the model to members of their congregation. The end result will make it easier to create sustainable lifestyle and behavioral changes for themselves and for others. Training begins January 2015.