I’ve always been fascinated with the link (or missing link) between religion and health.

On my own journey as a non-denominational Christian a few years ago, I couldn’t help but notice the same staggering statistics of overweight and obese Americans in the church community.

Lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride… Perhaps, these are easier and more obvious sins to flee from?

But what about gluttony!?  [gluht-n-ee]: Over indulgence or over-consumption of food, drink or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste. 

You’d think that the most spiritual or in tune with their Creator would realize that our bodies are temples. And that stuffing ourselves full of food is just a temporary quick fix to a deeper yearning within us; one that can’t be satisfied by food, drink, or anyTHING.

New Study: Link Between Religion and Obesity? 

Yet apparently, a new study in the Journal of Religion and Health has found that gluttony may be rampant among the “religious.” Analyzing data of 9408 adults showed:

  • Religious denomination was “significantly related to higher BMI,” which is a precursor for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other problems.
  • Baptist and Catholic men had a higher BMI compared to those with no religious affiliations, and non-Christian women had lower BMIs.

Dr. Kortt and Professor Dollery, whom collaborated on conducting the study, noted that:

 “…excessive eating, or the sin of gluttony, may not receive the same level of condemnation and could even be viewed as an ‘accepted vice’ by religious leaders and followers.”

How profound!

Is BMI an Accurate Measure, Though?

Let’s first look at what was measured. BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a formula for body fat based on a person’s height and weight. The chart below shows the ranges of BMI:

Weight Status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal
25.0 – 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and Above Obese

BMI may not be the best measure of fatness, however. As quoted by Michael Roizen, MD, on Web MD, “When [Michael Jordan] was in his prime, his BMI was 27-29, classifying him as overweight, yet his waist size was less than 30 [inches].”

Some experts think that measuring waist circumference is a better overall health measurement than BMI, in fact. The more fat around one’s waist, the more biologically active and more damaging to the body than weight around the hips.

The National Institutes of Health state that a bigger waist circumference (greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women)  is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and heart disease when BMI is 25 to 34.9.

Others argue that getting a true body fat test (skin-fold measurement, bod-pod, etc.) is much more specific to actual fat content and provides a more accurate picture.

The American Council on Exercise shows the following ranges for body fat percentage:

Women Men
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32% + 26% +

The Consensus… 

Maybe the new study linking religion to obesity perhaps wasn’t an accurate measure after all. But, regardless of skewed data or not, the bigger picture is whether or not we are honoring our bodies as we should be; as an awesome reflection of our Creator. 

Our bodies are incredible temples. Barring we are healthy, they allow us to walk, shake someone’s hand, play sports, dance, talk, think, see, smile, laugh, and breath without having to consciously keep our hearts pumping.

As vain as appearance is, our outer appearance may be an indicator of how and what we think of ourselves, and how we do or don’t accept and nourish ourselves.

We aren’t perfect and we are allowed to “eat, drink and be merry!” However, when that boundary gets crossed time and time again, and we start to RELY on food as our comforter, our friend and our relief, it is a red flag.

What to do if and when that happens?

Seek nourishment elsewhere… Whether in nature, exercise, in your Creator, calling a friend, or reading a good book.

We are SOULS with BODIES. Not the other way around.