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Religious Activities Could Promote Obesity

d their effects on weight. He also measured the impact of a person's belief in his or her faith, how someone practiced his or her faith, and a person's tendency to seek comfort and support from religious figures.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index - weight divided by height squared using the metric system - greater than 30. Ferraro says 30 percent of adults over the age of 20 is now identified as obese and another 34 percent is overweight, meaning a body mass index of 25 to 30. Obese and overweight people are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like adult onset diabetes and heart disease. Increasing health-care costs, social discrimination and a poor quality of life also are consequences of an obese lifestyle, Ferraro says.

In other health contexts, religion is considered positive. Prayer, meditation and the social interaction provided by religion can be good for people's health, he says. Some studies show that people who read the Bible more often have lower blood pressure, and people who are more religious are less likely to be depressed.

"Most religions also encourage restraint from participating in injurious behaviors, such as heavy drinking and smoking," Ferraro says. "However, overeating is not considered a great sin - it has become the accepted vice."

Many religious activities are rooted in food. From the donut hour after weekly services to receptions or picnics, these foods tend to be high in fat.

"These high-fat meals are saying implicitly, 'This is how we celebrate,'" Ferraro says. "Instead, religious leaders need to model and encourage physical health as an important part of a person's spiritual well-being."

This study is a follow-up to one Ferraro published in 1998 that showed a correlation between weight and religious practices. Ferraro found there were more obese people in states with larger populations of people claiming religious affiliations, especially in states wi
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