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Religion and obesity: Study links church and being fat

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Warning: Spending too much time at church may be harmful to your health.

A new study has found that young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age compared with those who don’t take part in any religious events.

“We don’t know why frequent religious participation is associated with development of obesity, but the upshot of these findings highlight a group that could benefit from targeted efforts at obesity prevention,” said Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “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.”

The study tracked 2,433 young men and women for 18 years in Chicago, Minneapolis, Birmingham, Ala., and Oakland, Calif.

In the study, “frequent” religious participation meant attending at least one event per week. Most, but not all of the participants, were Christians — reflecting the dominant religion in the United States, Feinstein said.

Courtney Parker, the catering manager for the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn, said he’s not entirely surprised by the study’s results. Parker suspects there may be a historical connection between over-eating and going to church. In years gone by, so many things were taboo — but not eating, Parker said.

Years ago, “church services ran long,” Parker said. “So the first thing you do is go eat, and then you go to sleep.”

Parker said Apostolic has made a point in recent years of serving healthy food at church events. So you’re more likely to see baked fish or chicken, rather than pizza, on the menu.

Feinstein said the study’s results shouldn’t be a cause for alarm because previous studies have shown that regular churchgoers tend to smoke less, have better mental health and live longer than those who don’t go to church.



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