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Pray it ain't so: Young religious adults may be more likely than nonreligious peers to become obese by middle age

March 24, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times
  • In a study, higher religious participation was linked with a greater risk of obesity in middle age
In a study, higher religious participation was linked with a greater risk… (Los Angeles Times )

An inactive lifestyle, watching TV and eating too many fatty foods are all to blame for many Americans being overweight and obese. We may have to add religion to that list.

A study finds that young adults who regularly attend religious activities may be more prone to obesity by middle age than their nonreligious peers.

Jell-O salad? We're looking in your direction.

The study included 2,433 younger men and women who were part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study and were followed for 18 years. Religious participation ranged from high (once a week or more), medium (regularly but not weekly), low (rarely) and none.

Young adults age 20 to 32 who were on the high end of religious involvement were 50% more likely to be obese by the time they hit middle age compared with those in the "none" category. This was true even after researchers adjusted for sex, age, race, education, income and the participants' body mass index at the start of the study.

During the second year of the study researchers discovered that those in the high participation category tended to be female, black, and have a higher BMI.

The study, presented this week at the American Heart Assn.'s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions in Atlanta, offered no explanation for why religious activity might be linked with obesity in middle age. However, other studies have shown that being involved with religion may be linked with lower mortality rates.

"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," said lead author Matthew Feinstein of Northwestern Medicine, in a news release. "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."

Some religious organizations are starting grass-roots efforts to help their congregations slim down and get fit. Could this mean the end of the venerable potluck? Probably not, but casseroles, pies and yes, even Jell-O salad might be headed for a makeover.

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