Interfaith Public Health Roundtable in NYC

On December 2, 2023, the Interfaith Public Health Network (IPHN) facilitated its first post-pandemic NYC Public Health Roundtable event. Community members and faith leaders gathered at the Bronx Opera House Hotel to discuss the intersection between community advocacy and public health solutions. Topics included the exploration of the history of public health successes and examples of public health initiatives led by faith communities, indoor air quality initiatives, food systems as a determinant of health and gun violence prevention initiatives. The discussion was facilitated by IPHN conveners Robert Pezzolesi and Kelly Moltzen with guest speakers including Trevor Summerfield of the American Lung Association and James Dobbins, the Community Initiatives Director of the NYC Health and Hospitals Violence Intervention Program (NYC H+H VIP).

The Not So Sweet Truth

How high amounts of sugar continue to impact New Yorkers' health, and what the Interfaith Public Health Network is doing about it.

Many fountain drinks served by fast-food restaurant chains contain more than a day’s worth of added sugar. Sugary drinks and foods are harmful to the American diet because they can lead to a myriad of chronic diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Even in a pedestrian-friendly city like New York, communities are not spared from the harm that excessive sugar can cause. In fact, diabetes is the 4th leading cause of death in New York City, and over half of adult New Yorkers have overweight or obesity – a large risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Strangers in the Field

Isaac* looked up at me curiously with big brown eyes, his tight curls a similar shade of chocolate brown, prominent against his slightly lighter skin. He was a new patient in our clinic and had come for his 3-year-old well child visit. A foreign-looking vaccine record was tucked into his chart, signalling to me that he had recently moved from another country. As I spoke to his father, a thin man of short stature with a warm smile, their story slowly unraveled.

Faith + Food Coalition: Food Systems Dialogues

IPHN was part of the inaugural planning team for the Faith + Food Coalition Food Systems Dialogues alongside the Center for Earth Ethics. The five dialogues that the team organized will contribute to the United Nations Food Systems Summit. The goal of the dialogues was to highlight the moral, spiritual, and cultural elements of our food systems, asking questions about how we keep the wellbeing of people and the planet at the front of every conversation surrounding food production, distribution and consumption. 

These dialogues were organized by the following coalition of leading faith-based organizations: Bhumi Global, Interfaith Public Health Network, Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Tzu Chi Foundation, World Evangelical Alliance, and the Center for Earth Ethics.  

You can view the details and recordings for the full slate of dialogues by visiting faithandfood.earth

Science Jummah: The Rich Tradition of Faith and Science in Islam and Religion in General

As the holy month of Ramadan begins, we are pleased to feature this guest post from IPHN Adviser Dr. Marium Husain.


It was in the middle of night during Ramadan 2018 in the last 10 days, a very quiet and peaceful night, when the idea of Science Jummah started. I was working as an oncology hospitalist and was taking care of patients with cancer admitted to the hospital who were either dealing with side effects of their treatment or transitioning from this world to the next. I was grateful for all the medical science I learned but science wasn't able to explain the why to me; why some patients got sick, why some walked out the hospital and some didn't. Although I have been Muslim my whole life, I again found God in these times. Even though I was unable to understand the why of events, I was able to accept what is in my control and what is not. The Qur'an not only spoke to me about faith, but also the drive for knowledge and understanding of the gift that is this world. My patient said it best: "It's all a mysterious wonder."

Sacred Lands

JustFaith Ministries’ new 8-week program, Sacred Land: Food and Farming is the first in their new eco-justice series. In the Fall of 2020, I had the opportunity to participate in a pilot of this program, that “explores our relationship to the land and our responsibility for it” – namely through access to land, and the cultivation and distribution of food:

Small groups learn how food and farming practices affect the climate crisis, marginalized communities, and their own health and spiritual wellbeing. Participants also explore practical ways to implement sustainable food and farming practices in the communities and the institutions of which they’re a part.

The program emphasizes indigenous wisdom through reading the book Braiding Sweetgrass, reviews Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and includes reading and watching several other texts and videos related to food systems and food justice. The combination of these elements is particularly exciting to me as I believe there is so much alignment between indigenous wisdom and Franciscan spirituality that can be raised up to inspire work that makes our food system more equitable and sustainable. 

Population health and humility during the COVID-19 pandemic

I am a philosopher who studies “population health,” and for as long as I have worked in that area, I have found the most interesting and admirable feature of population health science research is that humility serves the glue that holds it all together. Personally, it has also been a welcome change of pace for me to study humble science, having spent the earlier half of my career studying scientific hubris: there have been plenty of scientists convinced that their own brilliance showed the wisdom of everything from unethical eugenics programs to worthless medical tests. By contrast, I see three different kinds of humility that population health researchers have been tacitly doing every day, and should continue doing if they want their work to be grounded in evidence and contribute to efforts to make the world a better place. Diverse faith communities can and should be valued parts of those same efforts. Their participation is all the more important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Movement for Equality Starts with Health Care

I have served as an organizer with faith communities for the past ten years. While I have worked on issues ranging from environmental and food justice to housing and rights for undocumented persons, I have found that the area of health care is often overlooked in our spiritual call to a just and equitable world.