Does religion make you fat?
Whatever the reason, a major new study concludes that "young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age as young adults with no religious involvement." The research carried out by Northwestern University's medical school tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years and adjusted for differences in age, race, sex, education, income and baseline body mass index -- which makes this the first longitudinal study to examine the relationship between obesity and religious involvement.
Let's be clear. The study does not suggest that religious belief leads to obesity. Instead, it raises questions about the kinds of physical activities young people in churches typically engage in and recommends that church leaders carefully reflect on how to encourage young people to establish healthier patterns of behaviour. Matthew Feinstein, the study's lead investigator, says: "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."
It may be that this study applies particularly to American churches; no similar study has been carried out in Britain and Ireland. In which case, one needs to factor in the backdrop of a massive obesity crisis within American society generally and ask to what extent America's churches have played a role in generating that crisis.
Read the official press release from Northwestern University.