Young adults who attend a religious function at least once a week are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those who do not attend such activities.
This according to a new study by Northwestern Medicine, the first longitudinal research to study the association between obesity and religious involvement.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. In this study, the researchers defined a young adult as someone between the ages of 20 and 32 years old.
“We don’t know why frequent religious participation is associated with development of obesity, but the upshot is these findings highlight a group that could benefit from targeted efforts at obesity prevention,” said Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
”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.”
Earlier Northwestern Medicine research showed a correlation between middle-age obesity and religious involvement at a single point in time. However, the new study followed 2,433 men and women for over 18 years.
The study clearly revealed that many normal weight young adults who are highly involved with religious activities eventually become obese, rather than already obese adults becoming more religious.
:Obesity is the major epidemic that is facing the U.S. population right now,” said senior study author Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“We know that people with obesity have substantial risks for developing diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, and of dying much younger.
“So, we need to use all of the tools at our disposal to identify groups at risk and to provide education and support to prevent the development of obesity in the first place. Once the weight is on, it is much harder to lose it.”
The authors advise that this study only highlights the specific fact that people frequently involved in religious activities are more likely to become obese, and not that they have overall poorer health than the non-religious.
In fact, other studies have shown that religious people often live longer lives due in part to the fact that they tend to smoke less.
“Here’s an opportunity for religious organizations to initiate programs to help their congregations live even longer,” Feinstein said. “The organizations already have groups of people getting together and infrastructures in place that could be leveraged to initiate programs that prevent people from becoming obese and treat existing obesity.”
The participants in the study were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) multi-center study, supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Source: Northwestern University