What might explain obesity among those who attend services regularly? There are plenty of theories.
Levin said one possibility is that those who attend services, along with activities such as Bible study and prayer groups, could be "just sitting around passively instead of being outside engaging in physical activity."
Also, he said, "a lot of the eating traditions surrounding religion are not particularly healthy; for example, constant feasts or desserts after services or at holidays -- fried chicken, traditional kosher foods cooked in schmaltz (chicken fat), and so on."
There's another question: Why might religious people be obese yet still have good health? The fact that fewer are smokers might help explain that, Feinstein said.
Whatever the case, he said, the study points to the role that places of worship could play in reducing obesity.
"They can become part of the solution," explained Dr. Daniel P. Sulmasy, a professor of medicine and ethics at the University of Chicago, perhaps by increasing awareness of obesity and holding health fairs.
"Pastors, especially those in poor neighborhoods, could champion programs for more fresh produce and less fast food in their neighborhoods," Sulmasy added.
For more about obesity, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Matthew J. Feinstein, M.D., medical student, Northwestern University, Chicago; Jeff Levin, Ph.D., professor, epidemiology and population health, and director, Program on Religion and Population Health, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, Waco, Texas; Daniel P. Sulmasy, M.D., Ph.D., professor, medicine and ethics, University of Chicago; March 23, 2011, American Heart Association Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Conference 2011 and 51st Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology
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