Churches and Obesity
Religious shepherds need to keep better watch over their flocks and add activities to keep from fattening them up, says a Purdue University researcher who has found that some religious activities may promote obesity.
"America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem," says Ken Ferraro, a professor of sociology who has studied religion and body weight since the early 1990s. "If religious leaders and organizations neglect this issue, they will contribute to an epidemic that will cost the health-care system millions of dollars and reduce the quality of life for many parishioners."
He analyzed the religious practices and body mass index, often referred to as BMI, of more than 2,500 people during an eight-year period from 1986 to 1994. He found that the use of religious media resources, such as television, books or radio, was a strong predictor of obesity among women. The incidence of obesity increased by 14 percent for this group. At the same time, the more often women attended religious services, the less likely they were to be obese.
Men were less likely to be obese if they sought counseling and comforting through religious sources, Ferraro says.
"This means that men may rely more on religion, instead of food, as a source of comfort during stressful times," says Ferraro, who also is director of Purdue's Center on Aging and the Life Course.
To counter these effects, religious fellowship should encourage physical activity and healthy eating, Ferraro says. He suggests organized walks with the pastor after services and serving fruit and vegetables instead of heavy casseroles. Churches' large rooms or halls also could be used for fitness classes.
Ferraro's study, which was published in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, identified different religious characteristics, such as affiliation and attendance, as well as gender, and their effects on weight. He also measured the impact of a person's belief in his or her faith, how someone practiced his or her faith, and a person's tendency to seek comfort and support from religious figures.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index