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A study conducted over eighteen years claims that weekly church activities boost obesity fifty percent by middle age:

The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, found that young adults who frequently attended religious activities were far more likely to become obese than those who didn’t.

“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,” says Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“And that is true even after we adjusted for variables like age, race, gender, education, income, and baseline body mass index,” he added.

The study, presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, followed 2,433 men and women starting between the ages of 20 and 32 for 18 years. Study subjects were all of normal weight at the beginning of the study. By the end, however, those who had attended a religious function at least once a week were more likely to be obese, posting a body mass index of 30 or higher. Previous research by Northwestern Medicine has found a correlation between religious involvement and obesity in middle age and older adults.

Are church attendees praising the lard along with the Lord?

I was ready to blame potluck suppers (or as we Southern Baptist call them, dinner on the ground) but then I remembered that social science studies that find religion is harmful to your health tend to rely on tenuous correlations. Turns out I was right to be skeptical. As Casey Schwartz notes :

[O]n closer inspection, it’s not clear what this study really tells us. The conclusions are based on a cohort of subjects who were examined for the first time more than 20 years ago. At the onset of the study, they were asked about their religious predilictions. They were never asked again. Their obesity rates were re-checked in 2005. Their religious habits were not. Therefore, the Northwestern research is linking religious habits as reported by a cadre of twentysomethings in 1987 with obesity rates nearly 20 years later. This opens the door to a whole host of alternative variables that could explain the study’s findings.

Indeed it does. As the Atlantic Wire points out, “The Northwestern researchers also noted a few studies—and we’re pointing out a couple more—observing that there is plenty of research detailing that churchgoers may be happier , live longer, and may perhaps have better physical health than the less devout.”

So Church likely doesn’t make you fat. You’ll just have to think up another excuse for sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

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