Megachurch founder Rick Warren develops program to attack obesity

(Photo: Reuters / Tami Chappell)Rev. Rick Warren speaks during The Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church during the 2009 King Holiday Observance in Atlanta, Georgia, January 19, 2009. Behind Warren is Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (L) and Bernice King, daughter of slain Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

A program founded by author and pastor Rick Warren and developed by him and a group of multi-faith medical experts is attracting a wide following in its attempt to promote fitness.

The course, called the Daniel Plan, has gained thousands of followers at Warren's own Saddleback Church and even more worldwide on the program's Internet site.

In addition, it has caught on among other Christian congregations and Jewish synagogues in the United States.

The Daniel Plan offers participants the chance to lose weight through exercise, nutrition and accountability.

The program also contains a spiritual component in its curriculum, developed by Warren after he was convicted about his own obesity.

Warren relied on three doctors to help him to build the Daniel Plan.

They bring an interfaith component to the program.

"The three doctors who helped Reverend Warren develop this plan are Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiac surgeon and of TV fame, Dr. David Amen, a renowned pyschiatrist, and Dr. Mark Hyman, a nutrition specialist who also happen to be Muslim, Christian and Jewish", said Chelsea Clinton of NBC News.

Clinton, the daughter of former president Bill Clinton, did a report on the Daniel Plan in December for the network.

Warren believes it will take such efforts as the Daniel Plan to change the epidemic obesity problem in the United States.

He told Time Magazine reporter Elizabeth Dias in a report this week, "I think that health is just one of the many issues, these global issues, that we need a partnership between private sector, public sector and the faith sector."

"Each of them brings to the table something that the other doesn't have", said Warren. "People ask me all the time if I am trying to reinvent health care. No, I'm trying to reinvent health."

Warren said that poor health is not an individual matter.

"If I don't take care of my body, it just doesn't affect me," he said. "It affects my kids, it affects my wife, it affects my grandkids, it affects my employer."

Warren said that because poor health affects others, people need to take responsibility for their fitness.

"We need to get rid of the victim mentality and get back to the responsibility mentality, not just in health but in every area," he told Dias.

Warren is no stranger to seeking to build bridges across faith and party lines. An evangelical, he delivered the invocation at Barack Obama's first inauguration a President.

In addition, he has received criticism from other evangelicals for his interfaith dialogue with Muslims.

Warren is a signatory to a controversial letter from approximately 300 hundred Christian leaders responding favorably to Muslim leaders who issued a call for interfaith cooperation and world peace.

Some influential evangelicals withdrew from responding to the Muslim document, called "A Common Word Between Us and You", when they determined that the Christian response compromised their faith.

Warren, however, held firm.

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