Study: People who attend religious services frequently are far more likely to become obese

posted at 10:04 pm on March 25, 2011 by Allahpundit

I read the story this morning, mulled it all day, and … still have no working theory for why this should be so. I could buy the potluck explanation if we were seeing a slightly elevated risk for obesity among regular churchgoers, but … 50 percent? Whose bringing the food to those potlucks? These guys?

“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,” says Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“And that is true even after we adjusted for variables like age, race, gender, education, income, and baseline body mass index,” he added…

“We didn’t look specifically at the potluck factor, but anecdotally, we know that oftentimes at these religious gatherings people will eat traditional comfort foods which are often high in fat and calories and salt,” says Feinstein. “But, again, that’s not something we looked at in this particular study.”…

Feinstein says while obesity appears to be an issue for religious people, previous studies have shown that the faithful tend to live longer, be less likely to smoke, and to have better mental health status.

The key caveat here: Most of the participants were Protestant Christians. Why you’d conduct a study of religious effects on body weight and focus mainly on just one sect of just one faith, I simply have no idea. Having a control sample of Catholics or, better yet, Jews or Muslims or Hindus would have gone a long way towards eliminating or confirming the potluck hypothesis.

Seriously, any theories? I’m stumped.


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My theory is that it has to do with how they spend their free time. Those that volunteer at church potentially have less time to exercise.

And there’s the potlucks…

Ortzinator on March 26, 2011 at 2:38 AM

The obvious answer is that blacks have high rates of religious observance and high rates of obesity. If you controlled for race (ie. if you looked at whites and blacks separately), the effect would lessen. If you further control for age (middle-aged people are fatter than young people, for instance), the effect would probably fall further still.

needtoknow on March 26, 2011 at 3:39 AM

Do we have to go through the “correlation is not causation” stuff every time there is a study mentioned on HA? No one here confuses the two, and the study was not suggesting it. It also doesn’t mean the study is useless (well, this one probably is–I can’t imagine what they think we’re supposed to do about this)–we can learn a great deal from correlational research. Yes, I’m testy about this.

DrMagnolias on March 26, 2011 at 5:44 AM

They are lazy about life’s biggest questions so why wouldn’t it enter other areas of their life?

LevStrauss on March 26, 2011 at 6:06 AM

How much money is spent on stupid studies…that’s what I want to know.

EnochCain on March 25, 2011 at 10:25 PM

As my liberal co-workers would hurry to assure you, “It’s OK, it didn’t cost you anything, the Government paid for it.”

oldleprechaun on March 26, 2011 at 6:45 AM

just a stepping stone on the way to controlling (and executing) Christians for their carbon, er nitrogen, er fat footprint.

/

ted c on March 26, 2011 at 6:46 AM

The correlation exists, however, whether you like it or not.

ernesto on March 25, 2011 at 11:00 PM

There is a definite correlation between age and political affiliation also. The younger and less experienced tend to be attracted to activism that is leftist in nature. Why is that? Is it because young people are easier to fool? Is it because they’re dumber? Or is it because they’re just inexperienced and the pretty pictures of liberalism sucks them in? As they get older, the majority will shift to the right, as life smacks them in the head. Sorry, but them’s the facts.

So is this cause and effect? Or just a correlation? Me, personally, I think it’s causation. Young people are dumber, until they grow up (and twenty-one ain’t grown up). Somewhere around thirty-five or so is true adulthood, when you get to the point where you buy something you really really want, but it’s not for you. Most lefties will never get to this point (because it’s the governments job to give to others, right?)

Squiggy on March 26, 2011 at 6:57 AM

Unless they’re Catholic

Stand up … sit down …

Stand up … sit down …

Stand up … sit down …

Stand up … sit down …

Tony737 on March 25, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Lutherans do this too. We even stand for a Trinitarian Doxological ending hymn verse.

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 7:00 AM

BTW..this was the first red meat thread in a loooong time.

ted c on March 26, 2011 at 7:04 AM

I haven’t read the research report, but it looks like a poor research design. Even if it is a good study to just say that potlucks are the problem with no basis is bigoted stereotyping. Obesity is the result of the way people eat everyday, not an occasional potluck dinner or any other lapse in healthy eating.

kmarie on March 26, 2011 at 7:13 AM

I am 56 years old, stand six feet tall and weigh 197 lbs.
I attend Divine Service every Sunday, and on occasion Wednesdays. There is a mixture of thin and fat people in my parish.
Just my observation.

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 7:17 AM

It’s the fallacy of the external variable.

Research has shown that cities with more churches have more whorehouses.

It’s true, but meaningless. The prevalence of both churches and whorehouses in a city are explained by an external variable: population.

Bugler on March 26, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Hmmm…southern christians tend to be obese, and thus represent the largest strain on national health care…it makes sense that they would also oppose a national system, as it would require them to stop eating themselves to death…makes perfect sense!

ernesto on March 25, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Don’t ever accuse someone else of being narrow-minded or bigoted. Why are Liberals so fraking much like the people they rail about?

Tool.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:35 AM

Why are Liberals so fraking much like the people they rail about?

Tool.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:35 AM

Self-loathing?

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Just another dumb liberal trick to bash religion.

tarpon on March 26, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Self-loathing?

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Or arrogant in that they don’t think we pick up on the irony of what they say.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:51 AM

Well, if some churchgoers happen to stop at OLd Country Buffet after Sunday services, there could be a strong possibility that this theory here may have some (pardon the pun) weight to it.

For those who have never gone to Old Country Buffet, think of it as the ideal place for if you need inspiration for sticking with your current weight loss plan, you go to just so as to see living breathing examples of obesity in all its fat flabby glory.

It is not surprising to see some hefty folk taking up as many as three chairs at the table in that place, including entire families where everyone is taking up more than one seat, and that is no exaggeration.

pilamaye on March 26, 2011 at 8:00 AM

pilamaye on March 26, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Yuck.
I hate that place and the used food they serve.

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 8:04 AM

Epic mealtime = Canadian

You’re welcome

Dave Rywall on March 26, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Why are Liberals so fraking much like the people they rail about?

Tool.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:35 AM

They cannot see how provincial and stupid they are acting because they are too stupid and provincial, maybe?

Actually, I think it is a lack of empathy.

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on March 26, 2011 at 8:16 AM

ernesto on March 25, 2011 at 10:42 PM

We Southern churchgoers, fat or thin, really don’t care a whit what you self-satisfied, weak-minded, unprincipled busybodies think. What we do care about is liberty–you may have heard mention of it long ago–and the idea that if I choose to eat myself to death, it is no concern of yours.

It is easy to think of these studies as useless, until we step back and watch liberals drop their masks and allow their hatred of their fellow man to show. You don’t really care if anyone lives or dies, or how they do it. What you really want is to boss people around and tell them how to live, because it makes you feel smart and powerful. If ruling over others is what it takes for you to feel good about yourself you would be pitiable, were it not for the fact that your way of doing things destroys people, as well as liberty. So instead, it makes you loathsome.

DrMagnolias on March 26, 2011 at 8:23 AM

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:51 AM

Unfortunately, that describes my ‘lib brother to a T.

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 8:25 AM

It’s all the free food after the service at the pot-luck lunches.

Dandapani on March 26, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Why on earth would we take this at face value? From the little I’ve seen there are plenty of reasons to highly suspect this. Heck look at how many studies show global warming inreases snow fall and how many show global warming decreases snow fall.

Liberals come up with a result and then conduct a study to prove it. Seriously, who on earth would have ran a study like this in the first place?

GardenGnome on March 26, 2011 at 8:33 AM

So instead, it makes you loathsome.

DrMagnolias on March 26, 2011 at 8:23 AM

Excellent comment as always.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 7:51 AM

Unfortunately, that describes my ‘lib brother to a T.

OmahaConservative on March 26, 2011 at 8:25 AM

The libs in my family seem to be coming around.

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Seriously, who on earth would have ran a study like this in the first place?

GardenGnome on March 26, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Rhetorical question I’m sure, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Someone with an axe to grind with organized religion?

hawkdriver on March 26, 2011 at 8:49 AM

Positing that this is correct, I suspect it’s because they’re not the same body-obsessed, organic, wholistic, narcissistic, calorie-counting, water-saving toilet, sustainable green energy, mercury lightbulb loving, save the whales, carbon footprint measuring, New York Times reading, Free Mumia, power-walking crowd. They’re just regular people who like regular things.

ahem on March 26, 2011 at 8:54 AM

Maybe these people are members of the time limited kinetic military action group.

tarpon on March 26, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Everyone here is drinking the koolaid. Religious people are more healthy than non-religious people. They exercise more, avoid cigarettes, and eat healthier.

Here’s the Gallup Study:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/145379/Religious-Americans-Lead-Healthier-Lives.aspx

Here’s an interesting point:

Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, strictly adhere to vegetarian lifestyles free of alcohol and smoking, while orthodox Mormons and Muslims do not drink alcohol. In some Christian denominations, gluttony and sloth are considered two of the seven deadly sins, and many evangelical faiths frown on drinking and smoking. The Bible indicates that one’s body is the “temple of God,” which could in turn help explain the relationship between religious orthodoxy and exercise and certain types of food consumption.

If this is not enough, here’s another study, by Princeton no less:

http://www.princeton.edu/~deaton/downloads/Religion_and_Health_All_August09.pdf

The study in this thread uses a narrow sample frame and is built to give a given answer. Furthermore it feeds into our biases about religious people.

The simple fact is: a religious life is healthier, physicially or otherwise.

itsspideyman on March 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM

GardenGnome on March 26, 2011 at 8:33 AM

GardenGnome, you make my point in much fewer words. :)

itsspideyman on March 26, 2011 at 9:18 AM

I’m a Baptist, and most of the churches I’ve been to, do find an excuse to have some kind of activity surrounding food. Lunchtime meals after the church service on Sundays, get-togethers at a restaurant, fellowship at someone’s house where they’re encouraged to bring food. But, maybe its because I’ve lived Phoenix and now D/FW, but, I don’t see anyone who is overweight. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape.

I guess these studies are meant to discourage people from praying to God, and instead, pray to their new lord and master, The Government.

cebj25 on March 26, 2011 at 9:35 AM

As a Southern Baptist who likes to eat, I say to this study, who cares? It’s my soul I’m concerned about saving, not my body, cause i’m gonna get a new one anyway.

abcurtis on March 26, 2011 at 9:42 AM

This study was probably funded by a NIH grant. They must have salivated over the potential for Christian bashing that the grant proposal represented. I can see it now, “Hang scientific method, we have the chance to publish some liberal crapola that means nothing but sure makes it sound as if religion is bad for you. Woo Hoo!” Believe me, there is plenty or “research” going on that is either completely biased with preconceived conclusions or methodologically flawed. I read journal articles all the time that are really pathetic.

College Prof on March 26, 2011 at 10:58 AM

The study as presented here is meaningless–you have to know what other factors they controlled for before you begin to interpret it. Did they, for instance, control for whether or not the respondents lived in Missippi or Kansas? (Anecdotally it is of course true that people buy their Bible Belts at the big-and-tall store.)

hicsuget on March 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM

My theory is that most “scientists” really aren’t scientists anymore, and set up studies to get the results that they want.

besser tot als rot on March 26, 2011 at 11:42 AM

What Churches? The last one I was at was filled with mostly fit looking people. Seems you can fit more in the pews that way.

CWforFreedom on March 26, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Obesity also correlates with low IQ and low income.

esnap on March 26, 2011 at 11:52 AM

What other reason do people go to to buffet restaurants but to overeat?

terryannonline on March 25, 2011 at 11:10 PM

For the variety? That’s why I go. I hardly ever get my money’s worth at a buffet — esp. if there’s a casino involved (Gasp! Another sin!) — but it’s fun sometimes to have a little taste of everything as opposed to having to decide on something from the menu.

BTW, I thought there was no one sin greater than another? I also thought that only those without sin were invited to cast the first stone? You and ernesto come off incredibly sanctimonious broadcasting your disgust for buffets and fat people.

NoLeftTurn on March 26, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Those Lutheran pot lucks will do it every time!

Khun Joe on March 26, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Obesity also correlates with low IQ and low income.

esnap on March 26, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Go back and watch the Dems campaigning in “friendly” churches. I think some churches definitely “weighted” this “study”.

CWforFreedom on March 26, 2011 at 1:04 PM

If I’m not mistaken, the researchers did not control for number of children and location (suburbs, rural areas, cities, etc).

Women who have children tend to put on weight, and it has nothing to do with being “fat” or unhealthy – it’s just biology. This is especially true of women who have had several children. (The super-hot Gov. Palin is an exception.)

Religious people tend to have more kids.

Also, location: if you live in a place wherein you can walk to work, to the grocery store, to the park, you’re going to be a bit thinner. If you live in a rural area in which you have to hop in the car and drive to get anywhere, you gain a bit of weight. Last I checked, places like DC, NYC, and Chicago were not exactly hotbeds of religion.

What this study may really be saying is, “Rural and suburban people with a lot of kids tend to be more obese than their city-dwelling, childfree peers”.

Roxeanne de Luca on March 26, 2011 at 2:16 PM

The South has higher rates of both Protestantism and obesity. It is doubtful that one causes the other. (Why should anyone believe that obesity leads to Protestantism?) An observer less interested in bashing Protestants might also suggest that lower hard drug use and alcoholism among Baptists and Methodists may lead to less wasting away of people and the conclusion that Protestantism is a way to ward off anorexia.

KW64 on March 26, 2011 at 2:20 PM

pilamaye on March 26, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Yes! that is exactly what I saw the one time we went there. We never went back, because we were afraid we would turn into the people we saw there who could barely walk.

Ernesto is a bigot.

juliesa on March 26, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Jews don’t have potlucks?

Jews have kiddushes after Sabbath morning services. These are prepared by members in the synagogue kitchen (to make sure everything’s literally kosher. They can vary from abstemious to lavish, depending on the congregation, the occasion, and the sum of members’ sponsorship donations that week.

bgoldman on March 26, 2011 at 11:19 PM

They are lazy about life’s biggest questions so why wouldn’t it enter other areas of their life?

LevStrauss on March 26, 2011 at 6:06 AM

It’s really a shame this blog doesn’t attract more quality atheists.

As to why this might have something to do with their faith… churches do often preach about sin, but the sins that get the most attention are the more obvious ones, infidelity, drugs, drinking, etc., things most people going to church already look down on anyway. We accept that the alcoholic is a sinner but rarely say the same of those whose gluttony causes them to eat themselves into obesity. So it’s an indulgence without guilt, and it may be that some who find all other indulgences sinful seek comfort in the one that’s relatively socially acceptable.

Esthier on March 27, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Hmmm…southern christians tend to be obese, and thus represent the largest strain on national health care…it makes sense that they would also oppose a national system, as it would require them to stop eating themselves to death…makes perfect sense!

ernesto on March 25, 2011 at 10:42 PM

No, actually, this is incredibly stupid and doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. How exactly would a national system force fat people to stop eating themselves to death? Are we to take it that the death panel charge was ridiculous but that the government really will be taking over every aspect of our lives once it’s financially responsible for our health?

Esthier on March 27, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Praise the lord and pass the gravy.

mugged on March 27, 2011 at 5:35 PM

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