The Centers for Disease Control has named Huntington, W. Va., the unhealthiest city in the United States. Nearly half of the adults there are obese and cases of heart disease and diabetes lead the nation.
That news motivated local pastor Steve Willis of the First Baptist Church to start reaching out to his congregation. He told his 400 members that being overweight is a spiritual problem.
"What we do with our bodies matters to God. How we treat our bodies matters to God," he declared from the pulpit. "Honor God with your body."
Willis warned against gluttony, making food an idol and pointed out that Jesus commanded us to love God with all our strength.
"If we're not loving God with all our strength, if we're not taking care of our bodies, then we're not going to be able to do the second part of the commandment, which is love your neighbor as yourself," he explained.
Instead, "We're worn down, we have poor health and consequently we're not able to serve our families and not able to serve in ministries in the church," he added.
A Weight Loss God-send
Unfortunately, the pastor's message wasn't sinking in. Until one Sunday after church, he petitioned God for His divine help.
"So I prayed," Willis recalled. "I said 'Lord, I need to figure out some way to communicate the importance of this with the nutritional aspect.'"
"And I kid you not, Monday the people from Jamie's group called and said 'We're coming to Huntington and we'd like to partner with you,'" he added.
Jamie Oliver is the famous British chef nicknamed "The Naked Chef" because he cooks with food in their natural state. He went to Huntington for three months to teach the people healthy cooking.
That experience turned into the reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," which airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
"The program isn't about freak town," Jamie said. "It's about a town that's 3 percent different than the national average. So it could be any town."
Help for Struggling Families
Willis introduced Oliver to the Edwards family, who was anxious to receive his personal tutoring.
Teenager Justin Edwards confessed, "I'm tired of being heavy and if Jamie can help me make a change, then I would really like that."
When Oliver arrived at the Edwards home, he was disappointed at all the food in various shades of the color brown -- which indicated a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.
"I'm feeling sad and depressed right now," mother, Stacy Edwards, tearfully admitted. "I want my kids to succeed in life and this isn't going to get them there."
Oliver showed the family how to prepare easy and quick meals that were also delicious and healthy. He told them to focus on eating fresh, whole natural foods -- especially vegetables. The chef even convinced them to bury their deep fryer.
Changing the School Lunch
After spending time with the Edwards family, Oliver then took on the public schools. There, he was astounded by the amount of processed food the kids ate, which is a practice that is endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture.
"Without trying to be dramatic, these are really, really dark times in health," Oliver said.
He freshened up the school lunches in Huntington, but only temporarily. A permanent change, he says, requires a major policy act.
"Right now I really need your viewers to try and support me if they believe in what I'm doing," Oliver said.
He encourages supporters to visit his Web site and sign a petition to change the regulations in schools.
"We need to share with everyone around us. The people we work with, go to church with, our families," Willis urged.
"Say it for what it is. This is a sin issue that I'm dealing with and I need you to love me enough to, when we go out, when we're eating dinner or whatever we're doing, I need you to help keep me be accountable on eating healthy food options," he said.
So with a combination of motivation from the pulpit, knowledge from Jamie Oliver, and policy change out of Washington, D.C., Huntington is on its way to living down its notoriety as the unhealthiest city in America.
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Check your local listings, or go to the show's Web site here.