10 May 1998

Firm Believers Are Flabby

Gluttony may be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but religious people are more likely to be overweight than their non-believing brethren, suggests a Purdue University study of religious tendency and body weight.

The findings, published in the journal Review of Religious Research, reveal a significant statistical correlation between being a firm believer and having a not-so-firm body - though a person's choice of faith is of marginal relevance.

"Baptists tended to be the heaviest, with Jewish, Moslem and Buddhist groups the least overweight," says Kenneth Ferraro, author of the study. "However, when we controlled for social class, ethnicity and marital status, the denominational differences in body weight were not significant."

Using a 1993 state-by-state comparison of data collected from public records, as well as a 1990 national survey called Americans' Changing Lives, Ferraro analyzed numerous factors related to obesity. "When you consider other theoretically relevant variables, religiosity is still associated with a higher proportion of obesity in all fifty states," he says. Figures were lowest in states like Massachusetts, Hawaii and Colorado, where religious affiliation tends to be less prevalent.

"The religious lifestyle has long been considered a healthy one, with its constraints on sexual promiscuity, alcohol and tobacco use," Ferraro adds. "However, overeating may be one sin that pastors and priests regularly overlook."