The almighty Creator’s plan for Christians must have room for the big and large, because, according to research by Purdue University professor Ken Ferraro published in the June issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, he is cranking them out by the pound, at least among his devoted worshipers in certain American Protestant denominations.
Ferraro, studying correlations between religious behavior and BMI, found in a 1998 study that those states with large numbers of persons professing a religious affiliation had higher than average numbers of obese people. In the new study, he breaks this down by specific denomination, and reports that whereas 1 one percent or less of those embracing the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other non-Christian religions qualify as obese, the numbers of the markedly overweight rise dramatically the further one goes toward the Christian end of the spectrum: around 17 percent of Catholics, 18 percent of Methodists, 20 percent of Pentecostal and Assemblies of God parishioners, and a striking 27 percent of Baptists are obese.
Even after controlling for such variables as race and geography — the tofu and veggie Western states versus the fried catfish South, for example — the numbers clearly indicate that some worshipers are feeding much more than the soul.
These findings do not come as a particular surprise to those raised in such religious families, for whom post-sermon coffee-and-pastry gatherings, pot lucks, Sunday picnics, pancake breakfast fundraisers and sundae socials are commonly accepted traditions. And it makes perfect sense to social scientists who study contemporary religious behavior, and who, like Ferraro, note that among congregations whose belief system prohibits — and often preaches against — such indulgences as alcohol, tobacco, and other sinful lifestyles, gluttony is the one “virtuous” sin left to the fellowship.
Underscoring the acceptance of overeating is the fact that unlike Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, there are for the most part no dietary restrictions imposed by Protestants.
Unfortunately, Ferraro concludes, however enjoyable these food-centrist traditions may be to the fellowships’ moral, spiritual and emotional well-being, they are unhealthy contributors to the rise in obesity that, eventually, he fears will be to the detriment of the health care system, and to the health of a large number of the God-fearing.
Just as a number of denominations are backing such social causes as environmentalism and inequality, Ferraro’s hope is that they will awaken to the cause of personal health and fitness. The alternative will, sadly, very likely send all too many churchgoing Americans to meet their maker sooner God had planned for them.