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(RNS) Thou shalt not serve pizza?

Young adults who regularly attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese when they reach middle age than their nonreligious peers, a new study shows.

Based on their findings, researchers at Northwestern University’s medical school think congregations should be a focus in the fight to prevent obesity.

“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,” said Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year student at the school.

The research, released Wednesday (March 23), marks the first time a longitudinal study of obesity has been linked to religious involvement, the university said.

The study, which tracked 2,433 people for 18 years, compared men and women who attended a religious activity at least once a week to those with less participation. It found that young adults ages 20 to 32 with normal weight who were frequent attenders were 50 percent more likely to be obese in middle age.

The researchers noted that their findings do not indicate that people with significant religious involvement are likely to have worse health overall than nonreligious people. For example, religious people, who often smoke less than nonreligious people, generally live longer.

– ADELLE M. BANKS, Religion News Service

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