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Young adults with religious involvement more likely to become obese in middle-age

February 21, 2016

"Obesity is the major epidemic that is facing the U.S. population right now," said senior study author Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "We know that people with obesity have substantial risks for developing diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, and of dying much younger. So, we need to use all of the tools at our disposal to identify groups at risk and to provide education and support to prevent the development of obesity in the first place. Once the weight is on, it is much harder to lose it."

The authors caution that their findings should only be taken to mean people with frequent religious involvement are more likely to become obese, and not that they have worse overall health status than those who are non-religious. In fact, previous studies have shown religious people tend to live longer than those who aren't religious in part because they tend to smoke less.

"Here's an opportunity for religious organizations to initiate programs to help their congregations live even longer," Feinstein said. "The organizations already have groups of people getting together and infrastructures in place that could be leveraged to initiate programs that prevent people from becoming obese and treat existing obesity."

Feinstein noted Northwestern is leading such an educational intervention in a church on Chicago's West Side where members are taught how dietary changes and increased physical activity can lower cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity, cholesterol and high blood pressure. "Church-based interventions have shown promising results," he said.

Source: Northwestern University