Praise the lard: religion and weight gain

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Praise the lard! Sociologists have found that religions do more than just nourish the soul: they also expand the waistline. Ken Ferraro, of Purdue University in Indiana, questioned 2,500 people about their religious practices and measured their body mass index (BMI).

Women who watched religious television programmes and read religious texts were more likely to be obese than women who did not (although frequent religious attendance was also associated with lower rates of obesity). Men did not show a similar pattern.

Even allowing for their Southern roots, Baptists were the largest all-round congregation, with 30 per cent being obese. Next, with an obesity rate of 22 per cent, was Fundamentalist Protestant (including Church of Christ and Pentecostal). Third, at 19 per cent, was Pietistic Protestant, which embraces the Methodists, among others.

Some 17 per cent of Roman Catholics are obese. Among non-believers, the rate was 7 per cent. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons came in at 3 per cent, and Jews at 1 per cent. Taken together, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists had an obesity rate of 0.7 per cent.

Professor Ferraro suggests that Baptists may fare badly because alcohol and cigarettes are frowned upon, leaving food the only legitimate vice. He also notes that the lowest obesity indices were found among religions, such as Buddhism and Judaism, featuring strict dietary codes.

In addition, the study noted that Baptists and those immersed in fundamentalist religions tended to be less well educated than other followers; lack of education is known to be a risk factor for obesity.

Professor Ferraro published his results in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The findings are worth chewing over before sending your kids to sundae school.

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The Times, UK
Sep. 25, 2006
Science Notebook by Anjana Ahuja

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2006