Does Jesus make you fat?

If you believe the media, then apparently being a religious believer also makes you fat.

In the UK we have the Daily Mail claiming … (and they even have a picture offering you proof) …

U.S. researchers say Sunday worship can be just bad for your health as burgers and chips.

Experts at a Chicago university found those who worship regularly were 50 per cent more likely to be obese by middle age compared to non-religious people.

They are not quite sure why, though some say that because eating during church services has traditionally been allowed, worshippers were inclined to munch their way through the sermon.

You can read the rest of that here.

Then, from across the Atlantic we have this story on NSMBC entitled “Praise the lard”, and yes its the same story

“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,”

Now, to a non-believer such as myself, its oh so tempting to note it as yet another advantage to being a non-believer. Ah but wait a moment, as a skeptic, I have to be honest and ask myself if it is really true, what is the actual evidence here.

In essence what they are claiming is …-… here are some believers who are fat and here are some non-believers who are not fat, therefore being a believer makes you fat.

The first most obvious problem is that I can very quickly find you lots of non-believers who are fat, and also lots of believers who are thin and claim the exact opposite, so can we have any confidence in their data sampling and statistical extrapolation.

But even if it turned out to be correct, what we have is a correlation, and zero evidence that belief actually causes obesity.

One variable that they do appear to have correctly addressed is that their data appears to show that normal-weight younger adults with high religious involvement became obese, rather than obese adults becoming more religious, but while that one question is answered there are so many others that still spring to mind. For example, what if there is some genetic variation that caused their obesity and also made them more prone to accepting religious belief, and so the fact that they are religious is not the cause, just another symptom. I’m not seriously suggesting this, I just made it up to illustrate that you cannot draw conclusions here, there are still to many variables, too many unanswered questions. What happens if they breakdown the same data using income, education, place of birth, etc….

So while the media might be shouting that Jesus makes you Fat, I’m not convinced you can draw that causal relationship, all we have here is an interesting correlation.

When faced with media claims, be skeptical, even when they propagate conclusions that appear to confirm your own specific bias. Examine the claim, does the data presented actually support the claim being made.

Oh yes, one other side observation, I can find lots of media stories, all very similar to this Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine press release, but what I have totally failed to find is the actual study itself, so has anybody out there managed to track it down?

1 thought on “Does Jesus make you fat?”

  1. I go to church and most of the people are normal to skinny. I think the research is dodgy to say the least.

    Its possible that the churches surveyed were populated by mainly older people, and then this would explain why the sample is skewed towards giving that result. Thus the results could well vary hugely from area to area. Go to St James at Muswell Hill in London. I think you will be amazed how healthy and fit the congregation are.


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