A young adult who is regularly involved in religious activities has a significantly higher chance of becoming obese by middle age, compared to other individuals, researchers from Northwestern University, Chicago, found in a study.
The study, involving 32,433 individuals from the longitudinal CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults), aged from 20 to 32 years initially, were monitored for 18 years. 57% of them were female and 41% were African-American.
They found that those who attended at least one religious event per week had almost twice the risk of becoming obese between early adulthood and middle age compared to those who had no religious commitments.
The investigators wrote:
"This highlights an opportunity for cooperation between medical and religious communities to create targeted anti-obesity interventions."
The researchers took into account several heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), smoking status, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Obesity was the only heart disease risk factor that remained more prevalent among those with regular religious commitments, even after taking into account participants' sex, socioeconomic status, cardiac risk factor levels, education and race (taken initially during the study).
24 months into the study the researchers found that the more actively religious participants tended to be women, African-American, and with a larger BMI (body mass index). BMI is a statistical measurement; it is derived from the individual's height and weight. It does not measure the percentage of body fat and is at best a general indicator of how fat, thin, overweight a person might be.
The investigators stress that their study does not prove in any way that going to church, attending mass or other religious services makes you fat. Religious events include many activities, including get-togethers (with food), bazaars, charity events, etc. This is one of the first long-term studies aimed at determining whether there might be a link between degrees of religious involvement and specific cardiovascular risks.
The study was presented by Matthew J. Feinstein B.A., M.D., on March 23, at the American Heart Association conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. (Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2011)
The study did not look at what might be causing the higher risk of obesity. It could be due to the physically-inactive nature of such activities as Bible study and prayer group, or perhaps the eating traditions surrounding religions with feasts, desserts, fried foods, etc.
They also found that religious people tend to have good health. Nobody is sure why. One possibility is that religiously active individuals are less likely to smoke than other people.
Perhaps religious organizations should look into their role in guiding their congregations regarding healthy eating habits. Pastors, especially those who work in poor neighborhoods could encourage people to seek out fresh foods, with fewer calories and more nutritional value.
Source: American Heart Association
Written by Christian Nordqvist