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Frequent churchgoers frequently fatter
March 24th, 2011
10:18 AM ET

Frequent churchgoers frequently fatter

Young, religiously active people are more likely than their non-religious counterparts to become obese in middle age, according to new research. In fact, frequent religious involvement appears to almost double the risk of obesity compared with little or no involvement.

What is unclear from the new research is why religion might be associated with overeating.

"Churches pay more attention to obvious vices like smoking or drinking," said Matthew Feinstein, lead author of the research and fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Our best guess about why is that...more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals that are more caloric in nature than we would like."

The new research, presented at an American Heart Association conference dedicated to physical activity, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, involved 2,433 people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.  The group was tested - at first between 20 and 32 years old - for various cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking.  Those same tests were repeated in the same group over the next 25 years.

The results were mixed for many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but as researchers analyzed the data, one disparity stood out.  Those who reported attending church weekly, or more often, were significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attended infrequently, or never.

Kenneth F. Ferraro, author of similar studies linking obesity with religion, suggested that marriage may have played a role in the weight gain.

"The time period studied is when many Americans get married," said Ferraro, director of the Center on Aging and the Life Course at Purdue University.  "We know that weight gain is common after marriage and that marriage is highly valued in most religious groups.  Thus, one wonders if the results could be partially due to religious people being more likely to get married earlier and then gaining weight."

Those church potlucks probably don't help either.

"There's certainly a church culture around eating," said Erik Christensen, a pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square in Chicago, Illinois. "What I see among congregants in their 20s and 30s is they are very fit and what I see among congregants in their 50s and 60s is disproportionate obesity."

Christensen suggested that the virtual disappearance of church-sponsored baseball and basketball leagues may be part of the problem.  He added that the decision to attend church is sometimes made at the expense of being involved in athletic or recreational activities.

But he kept coming back to that culture of eating.

"What's ironic to me is that in my congregation we are working on a childhood obesity initiative and spend a lot of time thinking about weight and food," said Christensen.  "We sit and have a potluck and talk about obesity."

Yet another irony is the number of studies suggesting that religion and faith are actually beneficial for health.  Recent studies suggest that a "relaxation response" in the brain among people who pray, meditate, or engage in otherwise relaxing activities may alleviate anxiety and stress. Stress is implicated in many illnesses.  Other studies suggest an association between church-going and longevity.

"On the whole being religious has been shown by many studies to be associated with better mental health, lower smoking rates, lower mortality rates and better overall health status," said Feinstein.  "There are a whole lot of things religious people are doing right, but it's just this specific area where there appears to be room for improvement."

The upshot of the new research, said Feinstein, is that knowing there may be an obesity problem among church-goers provides a captive audience for intervention.

"The real value of the study is not understanding why," said Feinstein.  "What this study does is highlights a group that could potentially benefit from targeted anti-obesity initiatives. That's exciting because there is a lot of infrastructure already in place in religious communities."


soundoff (327 Responses)
  1. herp

    lulz yeesssss feeed your angah!

    March 25, 2011 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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  2. Anathoth

    "Those church potlucks probably don't help either." Yeah, the potlucks are the best! All the churches I know like to get together over a meal and hang out. Usually these aren't the best meals so the article makes perfect sense.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cliff

    What a bunch of crap. More anti-religion prpgaganda from the network that invented it.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kevin

      Good, religion sucks. It's the worst invention mankind has ever come up with. More destructive than the atomic bomb and more corrupting than politics.

      March 25, 2011 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      There can't be too much anti-religion comments. Look at what its done to the world! Do away with it and you do away with 90% of all evil.

      March 25, 2011 at 10:09 | Report abuse |
    • Sabrina

      Exactly!

      March 25, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse |
    • Jessica Sideways

      I think it's funny that they try to claim that Christians have better "mental health". Hardly, when you believe that there is an invisible man up in the sky who you can talk to and he guides you – how's that different from the Leprechaun that told Ralph Wiggum to burn everything in one episode of the Simpsons? Especially when we know that people who hear "the voice of god" have a much lower willingness to seek out mental health services.

      March 26, 2011 at 02:26 | Report abuse |
    • dalancroft

      Yes, Cliff, facts are pesky things. Often showing a liberal bias.

      March 28, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
  4. Meh

    I bet the family doesnt want to know what happens with that daughter on the left side of the picture when she's in the rectory basement.
    Catholic Girls
    At the CYO
    Catholic girls
    you know how they go
    /sigh we miss you Frank

    March 25, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. chefdugan

    The answer is easy. People who attend church on a regular basis do so becasue they avoid thinking for themselves. Otherwise why would they waste their time listening to so fraud tell them what is right and wrong and how to live? They are lemmings and lemmings probable tend to get fat.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sabrina

      Do you honestly think non-religious people really think for themselves? In the last few years since Richard's Dawkins book, the organized atheist community has really stepped up their efforts to force their agenda onto the populace. They are producing the peer and societal pressure to get people to abandon their religion...so a lot of them are NOT really thinking for themselves either. Some who are atheist are because they think makes them appear more intelligent or somehow above everyone else. However, they are wrong. They're just as susceptible as anyone else to thoughts and opinions of others, only they won't admit it.

      March 25, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse |
    • Sally

      Sabrina, please speak only for yourself. You really do not seem to have any idea what a typical Atheist thinks.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse |
  6. Rick

    No surprise here. More liberals exercise and take care of themselves. Liberal dominated states are more fit and practice healthy lifestyles. Liberals also tend to be less religious. Conservatives dominate religion in the USA, and have many more vices related to food, smoking and alcohol despite their supposed temperance.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sabrina

      Explain Michael Moore then. He'l liberal...and obese.

      March 25, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
    • Sandy

      Please, stop already. You can be Liberal and go to church. I do. Ted Kennedy did. Michael Moore does, and so does Stephen Colbert. (All mentioned are Catholic, btw. Make all the jokes you want about pedophile priests, but the Church has a very liberal progressive social policy.)

      March 29, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse |
    • fran glass

      "the Church has a very liberal progressive social policy"

      SERIOUSLY?!?! you are seriously saying that about the catholic church?

      March 29, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  7. LTCSTAN

    Why would anyone try to coorelate obesity and religion? What is the purpose and what is the agenda?

    March 25, 2011 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sabrina

      The Evil One has many tricks he employs to deceive people. He'll appeal to vanity...and other things.

      March 25, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      There is no agenda to this study; here's what Northwestern released about the study http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2011/03/religious-young-adults-obese.html. They even mention in the study that frequent religious participation has been correlated with a longer life span.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse |
    • Sally

      Pretty sure that this was the trend noticed in a multi-year study. Reread the article.

      "The results were mixed for many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but as researchers analyzed the data, one disparity stood out. Those who reported attending church weekly, or more often, were significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attended infrequently, or never."

      March 25, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
  8. Sabrina

    One has to wonder just how much the people doing the story actually know about world religions. It sounds to me like they've limited their 'research' to a few specific Protestant Christian sects. Most religions teach that overeating is a sin. Historically, gluttony is considered one of the 7 deadly sins. A number of religions, Christian and otherwise, also have various periods of the years where they abstain or limit food intake i.e. fasting: the Eastern Orthodox Church, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam are four of them. The assumption that non-religious are all thin is ridiculous. Madelyn Murray O'Hair one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century was obese. Quite frankly, I think this "study" is backed by those who are vehemently irreligious and want to discourage spirituality amongst the youth by appealing to vanity. Shame on them.

    March 25, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      Your argument was valid until you named ONE atheist who was overweight. Great, I personally know more than one atheist who is overweight. All this study suggested from its findings was that those in churches/places of worship find ways to eat healthier meals: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2011/03/religious-young-adults-obese.html.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    The should have stratified the data by income and education level to see if this was the reason. For example, waist lines go up when wages go down and waist line go down when education level goes up. There is another factor: guilt is associated with weight gain. Religions sometimes use guilt as a way to get people in line. It is probable these three factors (and the Sunday dinners) that are the primary cause.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sally

      Those are really interesting point, Bob.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
    • fran glass

      seriously interesting ideas bob. I didn't even think of the "guilt" factor, but it makes sense. :)

      March 29, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse |
    • Gee S

      It's really much simpler than all that, we love to hang out, talk, and eat. Especially when our weeks are usually very busy and stressful, it's a time of fellowship around a good meal after attending a great church. And most of us would rather eat at a restaurant so we can relax and have someone else do the cooking and cleaning. And what's the caloric outlay of most restaurants?? HORRIBLE. We know that and do it anyway because it's fun.

      March 30, 2011 at 00:15 | Report abuse |
    • ??

      They controlled for socioeconomic variables.

      March 30, 2011 at 01:52 | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    Hmm...kind of reminds me of an extract from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" – Screwtape is a senior demon tutoring his nephew Wormwood in the art of tempting, and he notes in one of his letters how gluttony doesn't seem to be punished anymore though it *is* one of the original deadly sins, and how it can be used to tempt someone...Sorry, it just made me think of it.

    March 25, 2011 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gee S

      *laughs* Actually, my friends and I have talked about that exact passage and how gluttony is never preached against now. It's hard to preach against it when you're doing it! ^^

      March 30, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
    • Yup

      I bet those who avoid other vices find overeating especially attractive. What else is there to do?

      March 30, 2011 at 01:55 | Report abuse |
  11. Emma

    Even an Atheist believes in something. They choose to believe in believing nothing....
    As a Christian I say "What you gain for believing is worth believing, because in the end I gain more than I ever imagined then choosing not to believe."
    Just thought I would throw that out there..
    I have never written on an blog before

    March 25, 2011 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. johndeanguthrie

    correlation does not equal causation.

    March 26, 2011 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. daniel

    Modern Christianity teaches of "god" separate from creation and heaven only after life. Taken individually, these concepts are radically disempowering. Together, they separate believers from control over their fate and block them from recognizing divinity in life.
    In a philosophy of unified cosmos [if god is everything, then everything is god, then the effects of actions (creation) are not separate from the doer, so the doer best take responsibility for the actions] compassion for oneself is primary, vegetarianism is rational, waistlines slim.

    March 26, 2011 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Peter Hillock

    Interesting study, and a subject worth discussing, but a sentence like this one just pushes people's buttons and is a little misleading:

    'In fact, frequent religious involvement appears to almost double the risk of obesity compared with little or no involvement.'

    This goes beyond the correlation found in the study (not debatable) to causation: religious involvement doubles one's risk (very debatable). Eating cheeseburgers and being sedentary doubles your risk. If I became a churchgoer tomorrow, that would not double my risk, even though I would likely be sitting near more obese people than I do where I work.

    Another argument for supporting non-commercial news sources, which don't always have to get people riled up to spike the ratings. Some important stories don't have a built-in 'zap!' factor (doubles the risk!), and the devil's in the (boring!) details.

    March 26, 2011 at 04:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NotPeter

      This was 25 year study – it said nothing about going to church tomorrow doubling your risk. Furthermore, you quoted the article saying "appears to almost" double the risk. This is simply a statement of the results, not an attempt to blow things out of proportion – your comment did that on its own. Good job being the cause of your own complaint.

      March 28, 2011 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • Peter Hillock

      Easy there, NotPeter! The long-term study was great, just the journalist's choice of verbs– 'religious involvement appears to almost double the risk' - made it a button-pusher. When people talk about something doubling the risk (even modified with "appears to" and "almost"), it pushes past correlation to causation, which the study didn't do. At the Chronicle of Higher Ed's website (www.aldaily.com) the link was tagged "Is God making you fat?" - and as you wrote, the original study didn't say anything like that. But more provoking headlines get more clicking traffic (it worked on me!).

      April 2, 2011 at 03:10 | Report abuse |
  15. Norseman

    This is the most retarded thing I have ever seen on CNN......

    all you stupid people out there that always soak up this stuff because it is "from research."

    I bet CNN would never dare post a story on Muslims becoming obese....

    March 26, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Colin

      They would never write a story about Muslim obesity because very few Muslims are obese. Christians, on the other hand are gluttons.

      July 9, 2013 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
  16. Michael

    Absolute piece of crap. This study is an evil Anti-christianity plot of some with hidden agenda. Some studies are done just to get some publication material for some sycophants. Statistics show that most of the church-goers these are families & elderly people. Statistics also show that there is higher BMI among couples having children due to obvious physiological reasons & less time to exercise due to multiple domestic committments. This study design is completely flawed. It is also circulated in mainstream media by people with Anti-christianity agenda. There are many unexplored & relevant areas for medical research than this stupid project at Northwestern which is conducted to get another publication under their belt.
    May God save Christians & America from such rogues. Long live human values & morality.

    March 27, 2011 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Devil's Food with Vanilla Icing

      How the hell do you get a timestamp of "00:30" ????? I've never seen that before!

      March 27, 2011 at 12:56 | Report abuse |
    • Carmine Wiggins

      Not sure why you think this has anything to do with "anti-Christainity". It was a study of why people get fat, in this case based on demographics, church attendance and eating. Being you were not part of the study all you can do is take the information on face value. Frankly speaking there is little or no value for the information provided, what difference does it make anyway? I think your conspiracy theory for "anti-Christianity" based on fat people is a bit far-fetched Michael.

      March 29, 2011 at 21:45 | Report abuse |
    • Carmine Wiggins

      00:30 is based on the 24 hour clock. It is the same time as 12:30 AM.

      March 29, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
    • Gee S

      OH PLEASE .... there's no hidden agenda here, my friends and I have discussed this for years. How Catholics have their issues with drinking, and we Protestants have our issues with food. ALL our fellowship times revolve around food. There may be some churches out there that that's not true for, but everyone I know is well aware of the problem. We LOVE to fellowship with our friends after church and we LOVE to do it around food!

      March 30, 2011 at 00:09 | Report abuse |
  17. Devil's Food with Vanilla Icing

    Lazy people are just lazy. If they let religion do their thinking, that's just one more way to be lazy.

    March 27, 2011 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. fran glass

    Lots of comments on atheism vs monotheism under this article and it never ceases to amaze me that people actually believe there is a hidden "atheist agenda" in which all of us are trying to convince believers to come over to "our side".
    don't you get it? We aren't a threat to you. Unless you are trying to use your religion to make laws and discriminate we DON'T CARE what magical sky man you choose to worship. If your faith is that strong it shouldn't matter anyhow. If you keep your religion out of my laws and my bedroom i *really* don't care what you do/believe and every atheist i know feels the same.
    I guess the question is why are YOU so obsessed with US?

    March 29, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carmine Wiggins

      I've discovered over the years that when anyone writes ANYTHING about religion that is not all wonderful, great or joyful then the atheists get blamed for it. Biblical scholars have proven the new testament was forged by impostors for the most part, but christians don't believe it. Go figure.

      March 29, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse |
  19. jj

    Hilarious arrticle. At least it was based on research, unlike most CNN web drivel these days.

    March 29, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tony Mel

    Being fat is not necessarily bad. In some cultures, being overweight (not necessarily obese) is perceived as a blessing, as it indicates wealth and plenty. Some examples include Africa and some parts of the Caribbean.

    March 29, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gee S

    Actually, as a life-long Christian, first Catholic, and then Protestant, I can tell you first hand that although being Catholic, most people just want to rush to church and get home, in every single Protestant church I've ever been in amongst about 12 different denominations, there is a desire to fellowship with one another around food. It's not just the pot lucks (which are usually crazy amazing!) but after every single service the question we all asked is 'where are we going to eat?' Everyone I know either flooded nearby restaurants, or had people over. You can never get into a restaurant quickly after church lets out unless it's fast food. The example always given is Jesus breaking bread with His disciples, but I can tell you that we all looked forward to good church, music, and sermon, and gabbing over a great meal. lol. And I never heard a sermon on gluttony .... ^^ Mind you, I've never complained except when I stepped on to the scale .... ^^

    March 30, 2011 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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  22. Rev. Carly Stucklen Sather

    This author clearly isn't a active church member: We all KNOW why this might be true - Church Potlucks, Covered Dish Dinners, Pitch-Ins, and Fellowship Hours! Where two are three are gathered.... there is FOOD!! :D

    August 28, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Alexys

    Maybe it's all the repressed guilt causing stress eating?

    October 24, 2011 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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  28. rick

    cant wait till false religion is gone most churches r corrupt n sneaky

    July 9, 2013 at 22:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 21, 2013 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. nadine

    True life story, My husband is back! After 6 years of marriage, my husband left me with two kids. I felt like my life is about to end i was falling apart. a friend of my introduce me to this great man Dr dele, I contacted him I explained my problem to him, he solve the problem peacefully In just 24 hours my husband come back home to show me and our kids much love and apologize for all the pain he have bring to the family. thanks Dr dele you solved my issues, and we are even happier than before you are the best spell caster, Dr dele i really appreciate the love spell you casted for me to get my husband back in my life i will keep sharing more testimonies to people about your good work Thank very much Dr dele.in-case you are in any problem you can contact him via email;Delespellhome@yahoo.com

    November 2, 2013 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. frank

    My name is Mr frank, my wife was having affair with a senior secretary
    in her office. I love this woman so much that i would not want to
    share her with any body. i told her to retire from the job and i would
    take care of all her needs but she would take it because she is been
    embraced by everybody in her office, this normally leads to quarrel
    every-time. i tried all i can to please her and she will promise to be
    good , some days later she will turn back to her normal way.
    i was nearly loosing out, i could not focus in my job, my whole life
    was full of sorrow and i was thinking i should kill the other man my
    self and put an end to all this until i saw a testimony from a blog on
    how Dr Ainabe could cast a love spell to bring my lovers back no
    matter what is behind the disappointment. so i decided to write him
    via email.(ainabespelltemple@hotmail.com). and now all my wishes are
    exactly as i wanted. She told me everything that has happened secretly
    in the past and i forgave her as Dr Ainabe instructed me to and she
    loves me and care for me as i ever wanted. i know there are many
    spells that do not work but i want to assure all you out there no
    matter what you have been trough to have faith and believe that this
    is the final solution to your problem.
    Even if my job is taking most of my time, the little free time i have
    , i will share the good news to everyone in the world because i know
    that with love brings happiness and hope for a long life.

    November 15, 2013 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.