Belief Beat

A new study, covered by Religion News ServiceUSA Today & The Chicago Tribune, finds that churchgoers tend to be fatter than their less devout peers. Baptists tend to be the heaviest, with Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist groups bringing up the (skinny) rear. Matthew Feinstein, the Northwestern Medicine study’s lead investigator, speculated:

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.”

You have to take such studies with a grain of salt substitute, however; the cause and effect may be lopsided, or correlation may not mean causation. In this case, I’m skeptical that faith has much direct impact on fitness or dietary habits of the masses — except in the case of belief systems that promote vegetarianism and/or fasting periods? — unless it’s that you think the End Is Near (May 21, anyone?), so why bother with the treadmill? 

More likely, it’s that some religious groups draw more heavily from parts of the country and/or socioeconomic groups with pre-existing tendencies.

(OK, so this is mainly a “fun” story because of the puns…  for something more traditionally entertaining — so to speak — here’s the Religion News Service review of the new “Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway.)

The link between faith and fitness also has a political angle, as The Tribune’s Seeker blog helpfully points out:

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 56 percent of white evangelicals frown on the government’s involvement in reducing childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama introduced her “Let’s Move” initiative in congregations last November and marked its one-year anniversary last month at an evangelical church outside Atlanta.

Other groups viewed the government’s involvement more favorably, including 61 percent of Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans, 75 percent of black Protestants and 51 percent of white mainline Protestants.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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