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Does this pew make me look fat?

April 05, 2011

Q. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” but that message appears to be missed by some. A study by Northwestern University claims there is a link between regular church attendance by young people and obesity in middle age. The study tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years and found that, of those aged 20-32 years with a normal body weight who attended a religious function at least once a week, 50% were more likely to become obese by their 50s than those who were not religious.

The study’s authors admit they don’t know why this is, but lead investigator Matthew Feinstein said, “It's possible that getting together once a week and associating good works and happiness with eating unhealthy foods could lead to the development of habits that are associated with greater body weight and obesity.”

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Previous studies of religious people’s health, such as one done by Purdue University in 2006, have discovered the same thing, although other reports have claimed that religious people are healthier overall because they have less of a tendency to smoke. But while drink, drugs, coveting your neighbor’s wife and other bad behaviors are preached against from the pulpit, overeating rarely is. Courtney Parker, the catering manager for the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, said that in years gone by, many things were taboo — but never eating.

Another reason may be that many evangelical groups are most opposed to federal anti-obesity programs such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, which they see as government trying to control their actions and curb their freedoms. On the other hand, Saddleback Church in Southern California recently launched The Daniel Plan, a year-long program designed to help its congregants adopt a healthy lifestyle. Almost 9,000 people had signed up for the plan by the beginning of February.

Do you think religious people are more susceptible to obesity? If so, why? Or is this just part of the wider societal trend toward corpulence?

It’s hard to argue with statistics (if they’re valid), but my suspicion is that obesity among religious people has more to do with culture than it does with faith.

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