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Women: Go To Church for Successful Weight Loss

Church setting may help weight loss

If you want to experience successful weight loss, attend a weight loss group in church. At least that’s what one research team found when they monitored two groups of African American women who were participating in the same weight loss program held in two different locations: a church and a university medical school.


Church setting seems to encourage weight loss.

The epidemic of overweight and obesity in the United States crosses all racial and ethnic barriers, with some groups experiencing a higher prevalence of weight problems than others. No group, however, has promising figures.

Results from the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that 68% of adults age 20 and older in the United States are either overweight or obese.

Among this group, non-Hispanic black women (49.6%) were significantly more likely to be obese than Hispanic women (43%) or non-Hispanic white women (33.0%).

As anyone who has embarked on a weight loss program knows, dropping pounds and keeping them off is a significant challenge. In this new study, which was published in The Journal of Black Psychology, the authors monitored two groups of African American women who participated in the same weight loss program, but the groups met in different settings.

The study was designed to better understand what might motivate African American women to lose weight. Throughout the 13-week program, the 55 women (ages 23 to 56) met either in predominately African American churches (19 women) or at a medical school (36).

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The weight loss program presented at all locations was the same and included a 90-minute behavioral weight management program co-led by a clinical psychologist and a psychology doctoral student. All the women kept food diaries during the first 11 weeks of the program.

During the last two weeks of the program, the women engaged in group sessions during which they discussed difficulties they encountered. The sessions focused on healthy lifestyle habits, including making nutritious food choices, exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and evaluating one’s attitudes about food and exercise.

The authors found that women who met in a church lost a greater percentage of weight than did women who went to the university medical school setting. They also found that women who were attempting for the first time to change their diet and exercise habits lost more weight than women who had some experience at managing their weight.

The authors noted that “individuals who attended the university often rushed into groups as they began and left as soon as the groups ended,” which did not allow for a sense of community or close interaction.

However, the researchers pointed out that “church-based groups have a built-in social support system that allows members to see each other, check in, and follow upon behavior changes.” Churches offer a more familiar setting that is more conducive to support, and support can be critical for individuals who are trying to lose weight.

Therefore, one secret for successful weight loss among African American women may be offering a weight loss program in church. Based on the results of this study, separation of church and weight is not a winning choice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NHANES
Sbrocco T, Osborn R, Clark RD, Hsiao C-W, Carter MM. Assessing the stages of change among African American women in a weight management program. The Journal of Black Psychology 2012; 38:81

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons