STUDIES in the past have suggested that regular churchgoing is good for mental health. A new study, however, suggests that it significantly increases the chances of becoming obese.
Researchers at Northwestern University, Chicago, who tracked 2433 men and women between the ages of 20 and 32 over an 18-year period, found that young adults who attended “a religious function at least once a week” were “50 per cent more likely to be obese by middle age”, a statement accompanying the study said.
The study’s lead investigator, Matthew Feinstein, said: “We don’t know why frequent religious parti-cipation is associated with development of obesity. . . 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.”
The researchers said that the findings only showed that those “with frequent religious involvement are more likely to become obese, and not that they have worse overall health . . . than those who are non-religious”.
Research published last year by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke University, which surveyed 1800 United Methodist clerics in North Carolina, found that rates of obesity were ten per cent higher than among their counterparts in other professions (News, 3 September).
A co-writer of the report, Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, said: “One pastor told us that if he sampled Mrs Jones’s dessert, he had to sample all the others’ desserts, or he would cause offence.”