Obesity among churchgoers needs to be addressed

If you’ve ever been invited to a church service that promises food afterward, watch out — it could kill you.

According to a March 24 ABC News report, a recent Northwestern University study found that healthy teenagers who were active participants in their church were two times more likely to become obese in middle age than their secular peers. This finding spans all sexes, races, education levels and income levels with no change.

Matthew Feinstein, the lead author of the study, said this was an indication that religious people are more likely to become obese and not the other way around, and the reason for this weight gain was a mystery because religious people actually tend to live longer than their secular peers.

In addition to the obesity factor, the study also proved that the more religious people were, the less likely they were to smoke, drink or do drugs, all three of which can substantially lower a person’s lifespan. However, it’s not such a mystery once you start to look at the culture behind the overeating.

The study did not take location into account in its findings, which may explain the spike in obese people in states like Alabama, the country’s seventh-fattest state with an adult obesity rate of 32 percent and an adolescent obesity rating of 18 percent. Texas ranked No. 9 with an adult obesity rate of 29 percent and an adolescent obesity rate of 20 percent.

The South scores so highly in obesity ratings because of its climate, its culture and its layout — there is hardly any public transportation out in the country, which prevents people from walking anywhere. The weather is hot most of the time, so this discourages people from going outdoors.

Furthermore, the Bible Belt is where most of these high scores show up. This explains why most of the obese religious people in the study abstain from smoking and drinking — because they may believe those things are wrong. The numerous Bible verses referencing gluttony as a sin go overlooked, possibly as a way of prioritizing sin and legitimizing overeating as a more acceptable vice, sociologists Krista Cline and Kenneth Ferraro said in the ABC report.

I was raised Southern Baptist in a very religious household, and believe me, we take Jesus’ command to “not live by bread alone” quite literally — we also live by fried chicken, grilled chicken, sweet tea, green beans, collared greens, okra, corn, cornbread, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, grits, eggs, bacon, beef and just about any other fried food you can think of.

I mean, come on — this is a religion whose major tenant is the Lord’s Supper. There’s an old joke about first grade students bringing in items from their religion for show-and-tell. A Catholic brings a rosary, a Buddhist brings a miniature Buddha statue and so on. A Southern Baptist child brings a plate of leftover chicken, explaining it was from his church’s potluck on Sunday.

I can say these things because that was the tradition I was raised in, but I’ve never held the belief that to have proper fellowship with your congregation you have to clean your plate three times over.

The reason people don’t change their dietary habits is because most people have a fatalistic attitude about their bodies, thinking, “Oh, it’s all in God’s hands, so there’s really nothing I can do about it. That’s just the way I am.” A focus on the afterlife is also evident, holding the belief that one’s earthly body will be exchanged for a heavenly one with no defects. They believe all this, despite the words spoken in 1 Corinthians 6:19, which poses the question, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (NKJV)

The social events of the church don’t help much, either. Whether it’s a baptism, an after church get-together or revival, there is usually food involved. This is not to say that getting together to eat and socialize is a bad thing — on the contrary, it’s a very good thing. But when members of your religion start to tip the scales and have health issues that prevent them from living a quality life, it becomes a problem.

But it is a problem some churches are taking a stand against. Many faith-based exercise programs do exist, as well as biblical diets such as the Daniel Fast, which imitates Daniel, a biblical character, in his bet that he could go for three weeks living off of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The real test will be if the majority of churches take steps like these to reverse this trend.

Jake Harris is a freshman journalism major from Wahiawa, Hawaii.