A Link Between Faithful Church Attendance and Obesity?
Young adults who regularly attend church are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than young adults who have little or no religious involvement. The report of these findings based on a study by Northwestern Medicine research was released this week. To make it clear that the participants were normal weight younger adults with high religious involvement, as opposed to obese adults who became religious, the weight gain of participants was tracked over time.
The study tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years. Young adults ages 20 to 32, with a high frequency of religious participation, were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age, according to the findings. A high frequency of religious participation was defined as attending a religious activity at least once a week.
So what’s the mystery here? I attend church two to three times a week, and that has been a consistent part of my lifestyle for the past thirty years. So allow me to share a couple of things I believe have bearing on the findings. For one, my experience has been that in church we love our social gatherings that involve eating. And there is nothing holy about the portions most of us eat in these settings. Neither do the kinds of foods on the menu help the cause. It is often said in church that we are to be good stewards of the body the Lord has blessed us with, but many churchgoers don’t faithfully adhere to that rule when they fellowship among themselves.
Also, for faithful churchgoers, religious activity is not limited to church attendance. They are also the ones most likely to study their Bible at home regularly, to spend solitary time in prayer, and to devote time as volunteers in their local church. This kind of lifestyle leaves less time for physical recreation and, hence, can predispose them to obesity.
The authors of the study caution that the findings indicate that those with a high frequency of religious activity are more likely to become obese by middle age, and not that their health is worse overall. Obesity is currently an epidemic in our country, placing its victims at higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, other chronic illnesses, and dying earlier. Said Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator, “These findings highlight a group that could benefit from targeted efforts at obesity prevention.”