Dr Darren talks CHIP


After an intense period focused on the redevelopment, re-creation and launch of the new CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program), programs using the new resources are now being conducted in churches and communities across the world. The Australian presenter for the new CHIP is Dr Darren Morton, senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Science at Avondale College of Higher Education. He shares his excitement about the new CHIP and how he hopes it will make a difference to the health of people and their communities.

What has been your experience with CHIP in recent years?

Now we've received feedback that it has really raised the bar on the previous CHIP. We’re getting that feedback even from people outside the Church.

I was introduced to CHIP by the then New Zealand health director Paul Rankin. He wanted to commence a PhD at Avondale and he decided to research CHIP. When we saw the kind of outcomes it produces, I was really taken by it and—we’re all on a journey—it’s changed my lifestyle, particularly with regard to my diet. While I’ve always felt like I’ve had plenty of energy, the most noticeable thing for me is that I don’t tend to get as sick as frequently as I used to.

After seeing the CHIP results, I introduced Christina Hawkins (Sanitarium’s senior product manager—cereals) to the idea and discovered that Sanitarium was looking for something like this at the time. As part of the resulting process, I got roped into the redevelopment of it and, next thing, they were even pushing me in front of a camera! So for the past couple of years I’ve lived and breathed CHIP, as have many of the talented people who have been part of the redevelopment team.

Dr Morton rides with his father.

Why has the redeveloped CHIP been so well received?

When you develop a new program like this there’s always nervousness about how it’s going to be received. Now we’ve received feedback that it has really raised the bar on the previous CHIP. We’re getting that feedback even from people outside the Church. But not only that, it seems that what we’d hoped for with the new CHIP—employing more current modes of adult education where people get to interact and engage with the content—seems to be working really well.

And for those who have heard about CHIP and what has been done in this space within Australia, there’s a real sense of excitement because they see the coming together of the talents and abilities of a whole host of church entities, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which owns CHIP, Sanitarium, Adventist Media Network, Avondale College, Sydney Adventist Hospital and Adventist Health Ministries. To my knowledge this is the first time we’ve seen all of these entities pool their combined strengths and resources and—from all reports—what has been produced is second to none. 

So how does cutting-edge medical research fit with the old Adventist health message? 

The principles of the Adventist health message are absolutely contemporary. I would almost say that the foundations of the Adventist health message are more relevant today than at the time they were penned. CHIP is a revitalisation of the way to share that information. For Adventists who engage with this program, there’ll be lots of information that resonates with what they already know, but it’s pitched in an exciting and engaging way. And there are new things too, because this is based on the best science. But for those who have never been exposed to the Adventist health message, in terms of the principles taught, it will be quite extraordinary for some people and, because of that, has the potential to transform lives.

The way of the future is lifestyle medicine and there are many reasons for this, not the least of which is economics. We are living in a society where chronic diseases are spiralling out of control and we know that the current way of trying to treat the symptoms is not working. So we need to focus on treating the causes and that’s what the CHIP intervention—which encapsulates the essence of lifestyle medicine—is about.

“I got roped into the redevelopment of it and, next thing, they were even pushing me in front of a camera!”

In the research you’ve worked on, what responses have you seen to CHIP?

We recently did a study in New Zealand where we went and followed up a group of 350 CHIP participants from the past five years in the town of Hawera. We talked with these people about their experiences and some have had an absolute life transformation. Others say, “Yeah, it’s made a difference to my life. And these are the key things that I do differently.” But even among those who have not followed through with the principles, I never had one person I interviewed who said they weren’t glad they did the program. The education is really powerful and it stays with you.

How do you see CHIP fitting into a local church’s outreach to its community?

This new program has been developed with local churches in mind. And everything’s been put in place to make it as easy to present and effective for the participants as possible. In many of the stories of Jesus, He healed first and then He worried about the other aspects of people’s lives. He was so passionate about people living their best life that He couldn’t help but bring health and restoration to them. To my mind, this is what CHIP is about.

The program starts with health and healing but, as it develops, the last section is dedicated to exploring emotional wellbeing, one of the key elements of which is having a sense of meaning, purpose and contribution, so spiritual themes emerge as the program comes to its conclusion. This opens doors for people and for churches to explore the other issues we’re passionate about.

In terms of lifestyle medicine, CHIP includes the best in education. In terms of information, it’s all based on solid science—a rigorous review process has been part of putting this content together. CHIP includes accountability measures, unlike other programs where you might learn about it but then you’re not really encouraged to engage with it by some sort of measurable, objective way of determining whether you’ve actually improved or not.

Key to CHIP is the social support. There’s more and more evidence coming through showing that when people engage in groups, that’s where the opportunity for real change comes about. But beyond that, the calibre of the actual presentation of the CHIP sessions is second to none. It’s something we can be proud of in terms of delivering this within our churches and communities. 

The genius of CHIP is that it occurs in group situations where people get to interrelate. That creates a real opportunity to help empower others and to create the possibility of genuine discussions about spiritual things. The people and churches who are using CHIP in their communities are really investing in other people because they have this genuine desire to want a better life for them—and people respond to that.