Regular church attendance can make you fat

Curtis Shelburne

Have you heard the latest “health” news? It seems that going to church—I mean really going, so regularly that folks notice when you’re absent—not just going at Christmas and Easter and whenever completely convenient and the barometric pressure is right and none of the kids are kicking balls and no relatives are visiting and the dog feels okay and your athlete’s foot isn’t acting up . . . Well, it seems that going to church regularly can make you fat.

According to an 18-year-long study presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, “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.”

The cutesy question posed by contributor Diana Maples in her article about the study, is this: “Are church attendees praising the lard along with the Lord?”

I’m not sure if the study pointed the finger directly at potluck dinners, but the article certainly pointed in that direction. Come to think of it, although I’ve been to a bunch of potluck dinners (and many about as close to heaven as we’re likely to get here), I’ve never been to one where bean sprouts or rice cakes occupied a very prominent place.

But such a study does bring up some other questions.

I wonder how long it will be before the food Nazis lobby for laws requiring a nutritionist be posted at the doors of church fellowship halls, or that dishes for potlucks carry nutrition labels? Lockstep legalists are always very religious about making more laws and are even more scared of freedom than of fat, whether they’re religious otherwise or not.

Of course, I’m not completely convinced yet that never drinking milk that a cow would actually claim, swearing off cheesecake henceforth now and forevermore, and carefully trimming off some of the finest parts of every cut of meat will necessarily make you live all that much longer anyway. I am absolutely convinced that it will certainly make life seem a lot longer.

I’ve got another suspicion, too. I’m guessing that religious people are much more likely to get fat if they attend relatively small rural churches. I’ve been to a few of what pass for church dinners in big city mega-churches, and let’s just say, as charitably as possible, that I can’t imagine anyone getting fat there. If you want a potluck dinner that’s a religious experience, you better shop elsewhere.

According to the article, the study’s lead investigator did say that while obesity may be an “issue” for religious people, “previous studies have shown that the faithful tend to live longer, be less likely to smoke, and to have better mental health.”

In any case, if you happen to come across any manna from heaven, I guess you better look for a nutrition label. You look. I’ll go get the butter.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at