Friday, March 25, 2011

Religion linked to obesity: Bonnie, Steve's take.

In a study sure to create a firestorm, new research from Northwestern University found that people who frequently attend religious services are significantly more likely to become obese by the time they reach middle age. The study doesn't prove that attending services is fattening, nor does it explain why weight might be related to faith.

Scientists have been studying links between religious behavior and health for years, and have found signs that there's a positive connection between the two. The studies suggest that religious involvement -- whether it's private or public -- is linked to things like better physical health, less depression and more happiness. But researchers have also found signs that people who attend services put on more weight.

In the new study, which will be released Wednesday at an American Heart Association conference, researchers sought to follow people over time to see what happened to them. They examined a long-term study that tracked 2,433 people who were aged 20 to 32 in the mid-1980s. Most of the participants were women, and 41 percent were black. After adjusting their statistics to take into account factors such as race, the researchers found that 32 percent of those who attended services the most became obese by middle age. By contrast, only 22 percent of those who attended services the least became obese.

What might explain obesity among those who attend services regularly? There are plenty of theories. One possibility is that those who attend services, along with activities such as Bible study and prayer groups, could be "just sitting around passively instead of being outside engaging in physical activity. Also, a lot of the eating traditions surrounding religion are not particularly healthy; for example, constant feasts or desserts after services or at holidays -- fried chicken, traditional kosher foods cooked in schmaltz (chicken fat), and so on.

Bonnie and Steve - this is one study, so it is hard to make any clear decision on the validity of the theory. However, we tend to agree with the possibility that religious activities that revolve around eating traditions that are far from healthy may be detrimental to the obesity epidemic.

In my personal experience (Steve), I am consistently appalled at the food and beverages I see presented at my place of worship. In addition, some religious customs are linked with "sweet" food items, which in a sense makes it easier for worshipers to consume them.

We believe that religion could serve a vital purpose in not just providing assistance with mental and emotional health to its worshipers, but physical health as well. But for that to happen, you must first "practice what you preach."

What do you think?


Chuck said...

could it be that religious people are more likely to allow their health to be controlled by others. rather than research the cause of obesity, they put their faith in "experts". experts have been making americans fat for the last 30 years. many religious people i know believe they have no control over whether they get a disease or sickness. it just happens as part of their destiny.

liz said...

It's communion! No, I'm kidding -- my husband and I are have been lo-carbing for a couple months and have been doing very well and realized we have communion on Sunday and it's not on our diet! Our church does not have very many overweight people at all but I would attribute that to the affluence of our congregation (Presbyterian), not their religion. We only have services once a week though, maybe that makes a difference.

Stephanie said...

This is just another attack on religious people! My pastor is very trim and encourages our congregation to eat healthy. He has preached on this subject many times stressing that our bodies are God's temples and should be taken care of. He also changed the pre-service and post-service treats to healthy fruit and granola bars.

Stephanie said...

This is just another attack on religious people! My pastor is very trim and often preaches on healthy eating and living. He stresses that our bodies are God's temples and should be taken care of appropriately. In fact, he changed all pre-service and post-service treats to healthy fruits and granola bars.