Is church making you fat?

Margaret linked to a story this morning that I thought deserved a closer look. While studies have shown that regular church attendance is linked to greater levels of happiness, lower rates of substance abuse, and better marriages, a new study has reported that middle-aged people who are religiously active are also more obese.

Is it all those church socials? The coffee and donut receptions after Mass? The bake sales and pasta dinner fundraisers?

…researchers at Northwestern University sought to find out how attending religious events is associated with weight gain over time. They analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, which followed more than 2,400 people aged 20 to 32 for 18 years. Over that time, the scientists reported at an American Heart Association conference, people who went to church or church activities at least once a week were more than twice as likely as people with no religious involvement to become obese.

While the study did not tease apart which church activities were associated with the most weight gain, the authors speculate that those who attended church were more likely to have a broader social network, which in turn may lead to more opportunities to gather over food and drink.

I also wonder if religious people pay less attention to their bodies. I certainly know Christians who are almost hostile to the suggestion that healthy food and regular exercise are part of what it means to treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.

The good news — as the article points out — is that the same infrastructure and support in religious groups that may foster overeating and bad habits can also do the opposite. It just takes a little leadership.

Zoe Romanowsky


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Zo

  • bill bannon

    are spiritually above the luxurious things of earth like diamonds….so religious people are above “romancing the stone”….however….
    religious people are not above… “romancing the scone”….big difference…..look in Starbucks or Panera Bread after Mass and you’ll see people who would never romance the stone….but they will….romance the scone…with coffee that has those huge blocks of raw sugar in Starbucks. Secondly the secret is to sing love songs to one’s barbells… Teddy Pendergrass songs…..” maybe, I should have spent more time with you….the whole town’s laughing at me….silly fool….to lose….. such a good shape ( substitute for “thing”).
    So….in summation….stop romancing the scone…..and romance the barbells instead….or the treadmill…whatever.

  • Chris

    Isn’t the most likely explanation that the people most likely to be obese in the USA live in the southern states, who also are the people most likely to attend church weekly? Correlation does not imply causation.

  • Kathryn

    My guess what be that children have something (maybe a lot?) to do with it. Aren’t Church goers (of any denom) more likely to have children (or at least more than 1) than non-Church goers?

    First of all, do we moms every really loose that last 5 pounds? And the more kids, the more likely the 5 pounds become 10 or 15? Am I wrong on this?

    And while I don’t want to accuse all the other mothers (or fatehrs) out there of shamelessly eating off their kids’ plates just to make sure that “good food” isn’t wasted, I think this kind of thing happens in other homes as well, not just mine.

    And let’s just talk about all those chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and convenient processed foods the kids like to eat and seem so cheap.

    I was actually getting to be something of a good cook during our courtship months and then after we got married many moons ago. Children, breastfeeding, and busy afterscool schedules pretty much put the kabosh on my feeble attempts at cooking (Boys Scouts is forcing me to learn about box and realy Dutch Ovens, however.) As a family, we gave up going out to eat for Lent…and I know for a fact we go out/went out less than many of our neighbors.

  • Kamilla

    I blame it on pot lucks and jello salad.

    Seriously, though, I don’t think it can be the socials/pot lucks/pitch ins and summer picnics. It’s people who take most of their meals alone who are more likely to have “food issues” and even the potlucks I’ve been to in southern Indiana (which I think is the perfect storm of the midwest’s meat-and-potatoes cuisine in combination with southern-fried cuisine) aren’t as obese-making as is a steady diet of deli foods and eating out.

  • Mark

    Another way of asking this question might be “why is it that the majority of people who make the time to go to the health club several times a week, not find the time to go to church once a week?”

  • Anna

    There are probably correlations with being fat AND being “other things” that correlate with being religious. For example, there are apparently more religious people in the south than in other areas, and living in the south correlates with being fat.

  • Lorraine V. Murray

    The study sounds questionable to me, since there seems to be a confusion between the terms “obesity” and “overweight.” Being obese is a far more serious medical condition than merely being a few pounds overweight.

  • Peter Freeman

    I also want to know more about the numbers in this study. How many of the 2400 were church-goers and non-church goers? And what does it mean by “twice as likely to become obese?” Are they actually obese, or do they merely have the signs of people who are predisposed towards obesity?

  • Lee Anne Guryn

    I think it may be one of those weird anomalies. Just because it may be they found middle aged people who attend church are more obese that does not necessarily mean a cause and effect.