Fact Sheet

Can religion make you fat?

A new study says that churchgoers are nearly twice as likely to be obese in middle age than their less godly counterparts

Is gluttony next to godliness? That's the conclusion of a new study that found young churchgoers were 50 percent more likely to turn into obese middle-agers than those who avoided church. The study, by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tracked some 2,400 men and women over a period of 18 years. Here, a brief guide to the findings:

So why are churchgoers likely to be fatter than the average heathen? "Our best guess," says Matthew Feinstein, the study's lead author, is that "more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals." It's also to do with holy matrimony, says Kenneth F. Ferraro of Purdue University, quoted by CNN. "Weight gain is common after marriage and... marriage is highly valued in most religious groups."

Is there any evidence that religion makes you fat?No. The study found no causal effects. It simply observed that people who attend church once a week were about twice as likely to put on excess weight in middle age than those who did not. And let's be accurate about it, says Andrew Brown at The Guardian. This study is about American Christianity, not religion as a whole. "Looking around the world, Christianity is probably more associated with malnourishment than obesity."

How could churches help their flocks slim down?By encouraging them not to praise the lard, says Rachel Cernansky at Treehugger. A church full of the devout offers pastors "captive audiences to speak to about obesity and how to combat it." Some churches are already starting "grassroots efforts to help their congregations slim down," adds Jeannine Stein at the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps we might suggest cutting out the potluck "casseroles, pies and.. Jell-O salad"?

Does the Bible have any advice for the overweight?"Food will not commend us to God," says St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. "We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do." But chunky Christians can also take succor from Romans 14.2: "One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him."

Sources: Los Angeles Times, CNN, The Guardian, The Bible (2), Treehugger

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