Can Religion Make You Fat? No, But It Might Make You Judgmental, Irrational, Mean, Prejudiced and Credulous

I have had several requests to assess from a REAL wellness perspective a recent study suggesting that religion might be a risk factor for obesity. How valuable is a finding that something "might be" this or that? I can identify unlimited things that “might be” do this or that, and I wouldn’t have to kill a single laboratory mouse to list all kinds of such possibilities. However, because the subject is religion, the latest "maybe yes, maybe no" study finding got a lot of what I think is unwarranted attention.

Many writers have expressed disdain for religion – among a few of my favorites are Robert Green Ingersoll, H.L. Mencken, Friedrich Nietzsche, Madeline Murray O'Hair, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. However, not many religious skeptics have done so from a limited health and wellness perspective. This, I like to imagine, is my specialty! Therefore, I’m pleased to offer a REAL wellness perspective on the question, "Can religion make you fat?"

However, before providing this perspective, let me summarize the study that looked at the link between religion and obesity, conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The research involved tracking 2,400 men and women over a period of 18 years. (Details on the religion and fat study are available in an article entitled, "Can Religion Make You Fat?" in "The Week," March 25, 2011.) study in question. Highlights include the following:

* The faithful seem to equate gluttony as being next to godliness. Praise the lard and pass the ice cream. Potluck gatherings and post-worship coffee and donut gatherings seem not to be helpful to the "bottom" line.

* Church attendance is a sedentary way to spend a good part of Sunday morning - bike rides, runs or walks on nature trails would be more physically and possibly more "spiritually" uplifting.

* Young churchgoers are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those who reject religion.

Why are churchgoers more likely to be fatter than the average infidel, like me? The authors offer a rather lame explanation, almost preposterous in nature and hard to take seriously. Yet, here it is: "Being religious is associated with doing good works and those who do good works reward themselves by overeating."

Can you believe that? It's almost as entertaining as Newt Gingrich’s explaining marital infidelities as caused by his overwork in turn driven by his intense patriotism!

Wait - hold your hat: It gets even more ridiculous. "It's because of marriage," explained another scholar associated with the study. Kenneth F. Ferraro of Purdue University told CNN: "Weight gain is common after marriage."

That's odd. Don't infidels also marry? Why are heretics not fat in middle age? Surely some are, but the headline about the study did not read, "Can religious skepticism keep you trim?"

Not surprisingly, there is NO evidence that religion CAUSES weight gain. Alas, one has to read below the sensationalized headlines before this fact is finally acknowledged. 

So, to end the incredible suspense, my answer to the question, "Can religion make you fat" is "no more than any other sedentary activity based on blind faith in ludicrous superstitions." The dogma won't make you fat - it will only reinforce whatever tendencies you already have toward being judgmental, irrational, mean, prejudiced and credulous.


Donald B. Ardell is the Well Infidel. He favors evidence over faith, reason over revelation and meaning and purpose over spirituality. His enthusiasm for reason, exuberance and liberty are reflected in his books (14), newsletter (570 editions of a weekly report) and lectures across North America and a dozen other countries. Write Don at