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The links between religion, poverty and obesity

31 Mar

Last week, I posted about a study emanating from Northwestern University in Illinois that predicted the extinction of religion in nine developed countries. Well, those researchers at Northwestern must not like God very much because they’ve released another study that links obesity to religion.

The study found that young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 per cent more likely to become obese later in life. While it’s an interesting finding, the researchers couldn’t really explain it.

“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,” according to the lead researcher.

That lack of explanation sounds like a good opportunity to jump in with some correlations. In my post last week, I pointed out that U.S. states with the lowest GDP per capita were also the ones with the highest rates of church and synagogue attendance. There is also a very clear correlation with those two factors when compared to the most obese states. In other words, all three of these things – religion, income and obesity – go together.

Obesity and income level have been linked in many studies to the point where we can probably move beyond correlation and think causality – that poorer people are more likely to be obese because they can’t afford healthier food. The cheapest stuff in the grocery store and at restaurants is almost always the least healthy and therefore the most likely to contribute to obesity. That religious people also have a higher tendency to become obese should therefore come as no surprise – they are also more likely to be less educated and have lower incomes. That’s another correlation that I’ll try to prove in book #2.

It is worth pointing out, however, that bad food does not cause obesity alone, a fact that much media reporting often omits. As the World Health Organization defines it, obesity is caused by a high intake of energy-dense foods and “a decrease in physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.” So it’s not just McDonald’s et al that cause obesity, it’s also parents who don’t teach their kids how to live healthy and active lifestyles.

The better question to ask then, is are religious people more lazy? The sarcastic answer might be that anyone who prays to a higher power for breaks in life rather than making their own certainly qualifies as lazy, but I don’t think the science on that one has been done.

Interestingly, the link between obesity and poverty is a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically, being fat was the ultimate status symbol – because food was relatively rare and hard to come by, having a lot of it in your belly meant you were well off and could afford to eat lots. Up until about a century ago, being chubby was like owning a Lexus.

Things are obviously different today, at least in developed countries. With food being cheap and plentiful, girth of the waistline has lost its social cachet. Size still does matter, though – but people now show off their wealth with big houses and cars.

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1 Comment

Posted by on March 31, 2011 in obesity, religion

 

One response to “The links between religion, poverty and obesity

  1. Fat Americans

    April 4, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I think obesity is rampant in Americans be they churched or not. I don’t believe going to church is an indicator of obesity. I suspect this is random.

     
 
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