Young adults who regularly attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than their non-religious counterparts, according to researchers at Northwestern University.
In a study that tracked 2,433 men and women between the ages of 20 to 32 for 18 years, researchers found that those who frequently attended a religious activity - defined as once a week or more - were 50 percent more likely to be obese by middle age, even after accounting for differences in age, sex, race, education and income.
Matthew Feinstein, the study's lead investigator, said it is unclear why more religious adults became obese over time.
"It's possible that getting together once a week and associating good works and happiness with eating unhealthy foods could lead to the development of habits that are associated with greater body weight and obesity," he said.
Some churches have taken steps to stress the importance diet and exercise, a move that can improve health and lower life insurance rates. In Kenova, West Virginia, the First Baptist Church has opened an exercise center that local residents can use free of charge, according to the Baptist Standard, which said the church also provides instructions for cooking healthy meals.