A recent study at Northwestern concluded that people are fifty percent more likely to become obese by middle age if they frequently attended religious activities as young adults. Folks who did not participate in religious gatherings over the years had lower rates of obesity as they reached middle age. More than two thousand men and women study participants were researched over an eighteen year period.
Interesting study, but do we know why these results occurred? The reasons were not investigated in the research but there are a couple of theories out there. One is that religious people might be more focused on the afterlife rather than this life. Seems like a stretch, but some people who are absorbed in their religion may pay less attention to the relationship between what they put in their mouth and the health of their body. They may also be spending their free time worshiping versus exercising. I would think that many people would make the effort to do both so this speculation does not appear to have much credibility.
The other hypothesis I have read about is the suggestion that church pot-lucks and coffee hours may be contributing to obesity. Typically you can find traditional foods that are high in added sugar, salt, and fat at these functions and not a lot of fresh, healthy food. Obviously this is a generalization and there are many religious establishments that do provide more nutritious foods than others.
There is no way to know the true rationale for the study results and perhaps they are even linked to pure coincidence or chance. Two-thousand people do not constitute a very large test sample. Just because a study has determined that churchgoers tend to be more obese does not mean that going to church or participating in religious activities causes weight gain. Correlation does not equal causation and everybody is different. What this research does point out, however, is the reality that obesity is a major problem that cannot be ignored. Religious or not, individuals need to be aware of their eating habits and their weight, and know that making some diet and lifestyle changes can make an incredible difference in health and quality of life.
Personally, I am curious as to the point of this study. I am a little surprised that time, money, and energy was put into something that doesn't really tell anybody a whole lot of useful information. Actually, I feel this way about quite a large number of the research that is being conducted. To me there are much more important health related issues that could be looked into. Keep in mind that this study does not necessarily indicate that religious people are unhealthier than non-religious people. In fact, some previous research indicates that religious people live longer and experience better mental health than the non-religious.
Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best. For more information, please visit her website at RI Nutrition Housecalls.com.