There’s another side to every story. In “The Flip Side,” we explore the unintended consequences of popular lifestyle trends. Today, we’re taking a look at how faith communities contribute to obesity (and how they can work to prevent it).
If you drag reluctant teens to your local church, synagogue or mosque, you probably do it because you believe they have something good to gain.
From the health perspective, research shows you’re right. Being involved in a religious community makes you more likely to live longer with better mental health, and less likely to smoke. (All of which, of course, are great for beauty.)
The sense of community also wards off loneliness, a major beauty-buster that leads to premature aging.
But there’s a flip side: According to a recent study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, frequent churchgoers are more likely to become obese.
The study tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years and found that normal weight young adults who attended a religious function at least once a week were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age. Baptist and Fundamental Protestant women topped the list of those with the highest risk.
While researchers aren’t sure why religion and obesity are correlated, they suggest that the high-calorie comfort foods served at religious events may deserve the blame.
That’s not a total shocker.
You probably have lots of favorite faith-related memories, but we’re betting food is close to the top of that list. Whether it’s ham and eggnog or latkes and whitefish salad, food is a centerpiece at most religious gatherings. And not healthy food, either—it’s sinfully delicious, fatty, fried food.
Research shows that obesity isn’t random: It spreads in social networks.
Faith communities are prime social networks, where bad eating habits catch on, especially when unhealthy foods are associated with celebration and happiness.
But faith communities are also a great place to spur change and promote healthy habits.
We know quinoa is no replacement for home-cooked fried chicken or your grandmother’s rugelach, but there are delicious ways to make a difference.
At your next gathering, try bringing a fresh fruit salad instead of pecan pie, or make grilled chicken instead of fried, and get your friends to do the same. Educate your faith community about what you’re doing and why; make it a group effort.
By helping your community get healthy, you’ll increase your chances of getting (or staying) healthy too.