Ah, The Fat-Phobic Media

The headline: “Are the Religious Prone to Obesity?”

The facts: A study finding that those who attend religious services most frequently tend to gain more weight in middle age.  Those who attend religious services most frequently also tend to be healthier.

What I consider fat-phobic: The “healthier” is seen as despite the weighing more in middle age, even though other research found that weight in itself isn’t always indicative of problems.   It’s suggested that religious groups can use this research as a reason to encourage their members to “slim down” and “prevent obesity.” There’s speculation that those who attend services more frequently may be more sedentary or eat more.

What do I consider interesting: That this population is both slightly healthier and slightly (32% of those who attend religious services frequently vs 22% of those who didn’t) fatter at middle age.  The frequent-attendee group also happens to smoke less — and smokers both have more health problems and weigh less.

What do you think?  Did I miss something?  Am I overreacting?

11 thoughts on “Ah, The Fat-Phobic Media

  1. Personally organized religion stresses me out, but I do think that people who have some sort of spiritual beliefs tend to be happier in general. That is just my opinion. I have also heard (and this makes sense) that being relaxed and happy in your attitude is the most important factor in health and longevity. Therefore it stands to reason that a fat, content person would be healthier than a stressed out person of whatever weight.

  2. This might be necdotal but in my experience those of a truely religious bent tend to accumulate less stress. Maybe due to ‘Lay your troubles at _____’s (fill in the deity of your choice) door’ or ‘Leave it in ______’s hands’ philosophies so common in many religions. In either case, this kind of displacement of every-day stressors could possibly explain those health values. Further studies *I’d* like to see?

    The health values of fat parishioners who are also NOT stigmatized about their weight as well as those who ARE. Such as ‘Pray the Weight Away’ or ‘Lose weight with Jesus’ congregants. Who, I’m sure, are receiving just as much preassure to conform as those who are admonished with ‘Your body is a temple. Stop desecrating it’ type philosophies. Decreased values in their health could go a long way towards proving the negative health effects of weight stigma on fat people in general.

    • I’m also curious about what kind of religious, too. Because for example, I grew up Mormon and I think there’s probably a little more sympathy for middle-aged women who gained some weight after having five, six…in one case, fourteen…kids, especially in sects where having more kids than average is considered important. So it’s probably a set of complex factors at work…just like any fat & health issue. And we all know complexity is BAD if you’re a MSM writer. :(

  3. I think that is likely the religious connection is a false correlation. I note that the researcher said that pastors could get involved in food local food initiatives, and that this population are “targets” for intervention. Looks like they want to justify intervention.

    I note only that the participants were mostly female, and 41% Black (a larger proportion than in the overall population). It seems to me that it is a set of test subjects selected specifically to deliver a particular outcome.

    Also, they were speculating that people were “sitting around” and that the food surrounding religious events is at fault. Well, did they go to the services and look at the food? Do they know if the participants ate that food? Too many holes in the study and too much speculation.

    Seems to me that this is one more sterling example of BAD SCIENCE. Really bad science.

    –Andy Jo–

  4. Women tend to be more religious than men. Women also tend to have higher BMI’s than men. They never point that out, do they?

    I see a lot of “if you were truly spiritual, you wouldn’t be fat” in religion personally.

    • Ack, sorry — they do point out that more of the religious were women, and that many of the participants are black. However, they did not point out that both of these are groups that tend to have higher BMIs than white males.

  5. They also tend to ignore the fact that it is not only normal, but actually healthier for most of us to gain some weight as we age. Very bad science indeed.

    • I love you for this.

      Personally, as an Evangelical, I find that my co-religionists just don’t comment on other peoples’ weight. Mostly this is because it would be rude. Maybe the lack of stress, and the frowning on drinking too much/at all and the lower rates of smoking helps.

      Like Lonie Mc, I also find some very vocal people complaining about all Teh Fatz in organized religion. But they always seem to preface it with “everyone is too accepting of fatness in churches – they’ll take on an alcoholic but not a fattie!” (No, really.) I do take some comfort in how marginalized people like that feel.

  6. I was just poking around the metrics information on the website for the longitudinal CARDIA study. They DO have information on the eating and activity patterns of these participants. What I find incredibly interesting is that they chose not to use it! Instead, they used the BMI data and then just guessed that, as one quote put it, “more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals.”

    And, as Marilyn Wann once pointed out somewhere, any report on a study finding an “obesity paradox” of fat people actually being healthier or living longer ALWAYS ends with a “P.S. we still hate you” reminder that fatness must be eliminated.

  7. Just found your blog. I weigh 409 pounds. It is hard because I feel alone at this weight. None of my friends are over 200lbs. I hope to gain a friend in you. :)

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