“A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger, is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.” - Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bed Intentions are Setting up a Generation for Failure
In our modern world, there is a strong presence of human struggle that is wildly diverse from centuries ago. As humanity evolves, the palette of conflict will continue to change as we learn, develop, apply such knowledge, and ultimately overcome given obstacles. The quote above is from an excellent book written by Greg Lukianoff. It not only contains an excellent portrayal of many severe issues that society is facing today, but it explains the evolutionary background for how such obstacles have come into existence. He states that, as a collective group, we are the source of our own destruction. Moreover, because psychology insinuates that we are products of our environment, the hurdles being conquered at any varying time will always be perceived subjectively. With this being said, one of the most significant issues that is present all around the world is that of obesity prevalence.
To begin with some data, obesity is defined as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a great risk to one’s health”. For adults, overweight ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index”. Basically, a person that encompasses a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. As of 2018, statistics show that the rate of obesity holds a record of affecting 40% of all adults that live in America. Due to the ugly truth of this information, it can be concluded that the demand for aiding this epidemic is tremendous.
After observing these prominent statistics, many human factors may come to mind. It is important to evaluate as many factors possible and thoroughly analyze how they could potentially play a significant role in understanding why obesity has exponentially increased. One of these human endeavors is the global concept of religion. Analysis of religion verifies a contribution to the effect of global obesity prominence and an impact on physical health overall. Whether this contribution leads to a positive or negative impact, it can be concluded that religion and physical health are connected either way. Therefore, in order to dissect these two concepts, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of both.
Religion is defined as “the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power; especially a personal God or gods”. Aspects of religious practice include attending in-person worship, taking religious classes, engaging in religious consolation, and utilizing religious media. All of these examples are traditional outlets across countless amounts of religions; however, for this comparison, the rise of religious media is an important topic when discussing the current prevalence of obesity. The two concepts of religion and obesity are neither positively nor negatively correlated on a grand scale. Since there is such a variety of modern-day cultures, lifestyles, methodologies, approaches, and opinions, there is not a singular explanation that justifies their relationship. Granted, there has not been an abundance of research on this topic; however, when analyzing the smaller-scale aspects of both religion and human health mindsets, many remarkable patterns are discernable. Maybe if these key factors are marketed in America more strategically, the road to aiding the obesity epidemic will begin small and continue to grow in a positive direction.
According to a journal titled, “Does Religion Increase the Prevalence and Incidence of Obesity in Adulthood?”, written by Krista M. Cline and Kenneth F. Ferraro, previous research reveals that religion in America is related to variations in body weight. The article presents a great composition of the relationship between religion and obesity by stating longitudinal data from a national sample of adults. Over the past two decades, obesity prevalence has increased significantly, so they decided to conduct a comprehensive study. Noted, the initial goal was to prospectively examine whether dimensions of religious life are associated with weight gain and the development of obesity during years of follow-up (Introduction, Cline & Ferraro, Page 1).
The article states that numerous studies show that religious commitment, especially when supported by a religious community, is an important determinant of lifestyle and moral actions. “For religiously committed people, many of their faith’s teachings offer moral and practical guidance regarding how to attain, maintain, or recover physical and emotional health. As a result, religion may affect well-being through the promotion of a personal lifestyle that is beneficial to health.” However, the mindsets on physical and emotional health vary between cultures, discipline, and, of course, the definitive religious faith.
Although many religions may address specific aspects of physical well-being, other religions might emphasize the topic differently or even more. The emphasis can be exhibited through examples such as teachings, scripture, worship, or even religious routines. Also referenced, even though religion’s impact on body weight is an important health issue for modern societies, the topic has received relatively little research attention.
Gluttony is the object of disdain in many faiths. Obesity has long been considered a form of deviance and therefore conceived as “sin”. Because of this traceably ancient cognition, the perception of overeating/gluttony continues to possess a negative stigma. This might be one of the only benefits to help halt the rate of increase. If people are reminded to recognize that this behavior is a threat to one’s health and that it can be considered “sin” in certain religions, it will never become a “new normal”. A few decades ago, the idea that religion may play a salient role in health was viewed with skepticism by many. The religion/health relationship, however, has gained broader acceptance due to the growing number of social and epidemiologic investigations done recently (Religion and Health, Cline & Ferraro, Page 2).
To give background on a few other health ties to the concept of religion, this article also stated some great examples. Statistics prove that people who are religious are hospitalized less often, less likely to suffer from depression, more likely to lead healthier lifestyles, possess a stronger sense of well-being and life satisfaction, have stronger immune systems, and overall better longevity. This data is incredibly eye-opening because most people would not correlate these two topics as having any sort of correlation. In addition, after analysis of people who regularly attend church, it was also found that they have lower rates of illness and death. Granted, there will always be outliers in any set of statistics; however, the data presented here is very straightforward. So how does this relate to religion and obesity?
“Among studies examining religion and body weight, it was reported that actively participating church members were less likely to have a higher total cholesterol and blood pressure than people who were not church members”. This is extremely important because the presence of high cholesterol and blood pressure are major symptoms that obese people commonly face. Basically, Ferraro found that there is a positive association between religious practice and body mass index, aside from socioeconomic status. There is some consistency across their studies, but there may be many different explanations for this relationship down the road. Because many religions in the United States place a priority on constraining sins such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sexual promiscuity, gluttony has not yet recently received the same level of discussion from varying denominations. If anything, in previous centuries, obesity had never really been a topic of conversation. Since it was always considered an “accepted vice”, after recent events, this perception might change sometime shortly.
Moving on from historical reference, another major topic discussed in Ferraro and Cline’s journal is the prevalence of religious media. This is the most notable solidified contributor to the positively correlated relationship between religion and obesity as a whole. In previous centuries, religions were not always practiced at a place of worship; for example, church, synagogue, or temple. What we see today is that people are practicing religion from their own homes using religious television, radio programs, reading religious magazines, books, listening to podcasts, and most importantly, making use of the internet. First world societies are currently on the cusp of reaching the “fourth industrial revolution”. Scientists are calling it this because it represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work, and relate to one another. The speed, breadth, and depth of this revolution is forcing us to rethink how entities develop, how organizations create value, and even what it means to be human. As one can imagine, not only will this evolution continue to affect every single aspect of life, but it has already managed to alter enormous amounts of industries, academics, science, and human engagement. And human engagement is the category that the example of religious media falls under.
Whether it be a private or solitary practice, individuals may be joined by others who are interested in these expressions of the “electronic church” or print media. By utilizing technology to reach these methods of religious practice, a lot of time can be saved in the process. This is why so many people are responding quickly to it seeming more “efficient”. Sure, it can be nice to stay at home and engage in these comfortable ways of viewing religious media; however, people who practice religion in this way have incredibly easy access to food and beverages while doing so. This contributes to higher rates of obesity.
In an article written by Aleks Krotoski, titled “What effect has the internet had on religion?”, the importance of the world wide web in everyday life means that religious organizations must migrate their churches and temples to virtual real estate in order to stay relevant and be where people are (Krotoski, Page 2). The concept of religious ritual is so deeply embedded in our social fabric that it is natural for it to have made the leap to virtuality. However, this technological evolution goes against many religious mindsets. A fundamental emphasis in many ancient religious notions supports leading a lifestyle of simplicity, poverty, and gratitude for the little things in life. This is shown in several Christian denominations, Catholicism, Judaism, and many more. With this being said, technology is the exact opposite of that thinking. Technology represents a luxury, fast-paced lifestyle, and perpetual constant connection. So, should religious groups emphasize marketing themselves in a technological route, or should they stay true to their ancient roots of simple, in-person, presence?
This is a penultimate question; however, the answer is already given. Statistics verify that 70% of the United States falls under a Christian denomination, 20% of them are Catholic, and 6% are associated with Non-Christian Faiths. When analyzing these remarkable numbers, it can be concluded that the majority of Americans are, in fact, correlated to a particular type of religious group. Therefore, it can be determined necessary to expand religious media to the platforms that will be the most effective for the audience. Even though religious groups might be hesitant to do this because of embedded moral teaching, this is a hurdle that must be overcome during this industrial revolution.
So, going back to the correlation with obesity, the presence of technology has already had an incredible impact on religious lifestyle and will continue to impact it in the future. “Studies show that the most consistent predictor of obesity for women, in particular, was religious media practice. With the rise of electronic media in the United States, the measure of religious media practice is primarily tapping into being ‘plugged in’ to the ‘electronic church’. Although religious radio may be consumed during ambulation or exercise, it is reasonable to assume in the light of these findings that most current religious media practice is sedentary”. People are no longer getting dressed up, leaving the house, and participating in “In-Person” worship practice which could be a foreshadowing sign of many other lifestyle changes as well. In addition, previous studies have shown that higher rates of television watching of any kind can lead to higher rates of overweight and obesity. Thus, measuring the electronic types of “viewing” is the logical step for extending the understanding of religion and how it relates to obesity.
The final distinct set of information that the article from Cline and Ferraro provided was that there were interesting findings from the same study that verified an evident difference between men and women. It showed that more women participate in religious media practice than men. Whereas, more men use religious as consolation and are less likely to become obese. This means that men may be turning to religion, instead of food, as a form of comfort and through this, ultimately avoiding obesity.
Conversely, the more women who attend religious services, the lower their risk of becoming obese. This could be due to getting out of the house and being more present with realistic events, or just an inability to access food. The more women stray away from engaging in religious media practice, the lower their risk of being or becoming obese. These findings are not only interesting in their portrayal of the distinction between religious media and in-person religious practice, but it is fascinating to see the tendencies between men and women. Men and women are entirely different in many scenarios of human life, and it can be confirmed that there is also an evident distinction for them in regards to physical health and how they choose to practice religion. There is clearly a role for religious media, whether electronic or print, in the spiritual development of the religiously inclined. Unfortunately, religious media practice is also associated with a higher risk of obesity for women to consume it (Ferraro and Cline, Page 5).
In a journal titled “Religion and Health-Promoting Behaviors Among Emerging Adults”, Shalonda E. B. Horton states that its purpose is to determine how emerging adults use religion to manage health. Even though there are many distinct religious groups, if we view them as one overall entity, then morals, mindsets, and medicinal treatments can be marketed to a bigger audience. Society sends out “easy” solutions for unhealthy behaviors, but there should be a greater focus on healthy behavior benefits, removing barriers, and considering religion’s part in health promotion for obesity prevention (Horton, Page 1). The “fastest-growing cause of disease and death” in the United States is obesity. Therefore, we must examine treatments, approaches, and ways to market that information so that Americans become more aware.
It may be possible to capitalize upon the health benefits associated with religion to address the obesity epidemic. For example, support within religious settings and religious practices has been associated with increased physical activity. Researchers have found a positive association between health-promoting behaviors and religion. Health-promoting actions can be anything from mental state to medicinal treatments, reinforcement, or professional assistance. After another study, focus groups that were tested shared their ideas regarding what factors served as barriers to them in practicing healthy behaviors as well as ways in which they felt religion could prevent obesity. They provided recommendations on how religion could be incorporated into a form of program, and since the category of religion influences behavior, the behaviors of the participants were defined by religious beliefs, actions, communication, and thinking. For example, they said it was their responsibility to practice behaviors that promote health for their body, “temple” (Horton, Page 26). Overall, both focus groups shared how religion regulated their behaviors in relation to how they made decisions, treated their bodies, and invested their time. This is a good sign because it verifies that religion can play a role in keeping one’s mental state intact. And maintaining a healthy mental state of mind is vital to prevent overeating, ignorance towards physical health, and disrespecting the body.
On the contrary, Horton also discussed the adverse health effects of religion. This very category of negative health effects of religion was defined as the harmful consequences resulting from practicing one’s religious beliefs. When both groups were asked about how religion had negatively affected their health, both groups had different responses: physical and/or psychological health problems and how they prevent individuals from performing health-promoting behaviors. For example, participants described how religious beliefs could prevent individuals from seeking health information and obtaining preventative health care such as vaccines. Another example is that religion does not encourage having sex because of certain religious teachings. This just serves as a balance to addressing how religion can also constitute negative effects as well; however, with regards to obesity, most of religion’s role serves as a benefit to the issue.
Once barriers to healthy behaviors are removed, the factors that prevent individuals from performing actions that promote health will be more easily identifiable. Utilizing religion as a source of comfort, consultation, and guidance can help a person stay on the right track to leading a healthy physical life. Taking care of the body through coping strategies could be the right approach. Whether it be speaking to a religious figure, praying to God, or confronting religious locations for providing exercise classes, there are ways to promote a more positive mindset towards a healthy lifestyle. After reading this article, it is also apparent that one of the most successful responses from the study was that religion could aid in preventing obesity by allowing individuals to use it as a coping strategy. Participants shared that religion helped individuals to deal with or manage reasons why they practiced unhealthy behaviors that could lead to increased obesity. “Encouragement from God and accountability” (Horton, Page 28).
Overall, after analyzing the available existing research, data, statistics, and standpoints on the relationship between religion and obesity prevalence, it can be concluded that even though religion can have a positive effect on solving the obesity epidemic, it also has been a catalyst. While religious media has been an instigator for the increase of obesity, the luxury of having a religious outlet helps support and guide people during times of need. Soon, more research will be conducted relating to these two topics, and we will continue to educate ourselves.