When Jesus said he was the Bread of Life, he wasn’t advising his followers to up their carb intake. Studies conducted by Northwestern University, though, claim that those who attend church as young adults are 50 percent more likely to become obese later in their lifetime.
In this study, approximately 2,500 men and women from the ages of 20 to 32, all starting at a normal weight, were tracked for 18 years. At the end, those who had attended at least one church function a week in their youth had a body mass index of 30 or above.
So what’s the problem? Are churchgoers overdosing on mini muffins or eating one too many of Sister Ruth’s deviled eggs? Some believe that potluck fare could be a big part of the issue. And while I agree that churches could stress the importance of healthy eating more than they do currently, the biggest problem is probably just this study.
There are so many factors to take into account in this kind of study that it is almost impossible to get accurate, revelatory results. Where do these people live? There’s a difference between being raised on vegan burgers and the Blueprint Cleanse in the OC and loading up on Southern comfort food in Louisiana. Are these people genetically predisposed to obesity? And how did their parents raise them? What about their education at school? The study also failed (among many other ways) to inquire of the participants’ religious affiliation at the end of the process.
This study, which conveniently combines two hotly debated topics, has the Internet in full-fledged troll mode. People are taking the opportunity to bash religion on various articles and forums regarding this research. One commenter on the Los Angeles Times website wrote, “Worshiping nothing and pretending to yourself it’s a real relationship with a personal god leaves a dig deep hole that has to be filled with something — food is the obvious choice.”
Another commenter on The Daily Beast wrote, “Religious people are intellectually lazy so it makes sense that the trait carries through the rest of their lives.” I’m sure Augustine of Hippo would have appreciated that comment.
The church, like any other organization, is comprised of people with good and bad metabolisms, great self-control and no desire to count calories. I seriously doubt that a weekly serving of peach cobbler is to blame.
I’ve always been really involved in church activities, and in high school I went to church functions an average of three times a week. My mother taught me about calories when I was young, and I remember many times I limited my consumption of donut holes or saved calories for snacks with my youth group.
What it comes down to is when people gather together, food is involved. Maybe churches provide cupcakes and casseroles, but the champagne is flowing at dinner parties and your friends are having a movie marathon, complete with pizza and chips.
If the availability of food were really to blame, I’d be obese thanks to the free bagels at my reception job or due to ice cream socials in Vista del Campo or Arroyo Vista. Heck, I’d gain weight walking down Ring Road (make no mistake — Korean barbeque will catch up to you at some point).
Many religions promote fasting and treating one’s body as a temple, which is something even the devout lose sight of in this self-indulgent society. The church could definitely make a greater effort to remind followers of the opportunity to glorify God by taking care of one’s health. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that obesity is an issue across the country, regardless of religious orientation. And linking the two is similar to a study claiming that BMW drivers are more prone to premature baldness, or those who wear purple weekly tend to excel in the art of origami.
One site hosted a poll titled “Praise the Lard” (tee hee) and asked readers to vote whether or not they believed a correlation between obesity and religion to be true. I voted “nah” but was shocked to find that 62 percent of readers had voted that religion and obesity were linked. I should have known from the comments that voters were going to jump at the chance to criticize organized religion.
Of course, the poll doesn’t state how many people voted, what their beliefs are or provide any other information. Like the original study, it’s just another inaccurate sampling.
Julia McAlpine is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.