A new study presented by researchers at Northwestern University at a recent American Heart Association conference challenges assumptions about the positive effects of religiosity on health. This study finds a link between obesity and religiosity (measured by religious service attendance) among young adults in the United States. The study contends that the more often young adults attend religious services, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese in middle age.

The study draws on data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, a longitudinal study that followed over 2400 people aged 20 – 32 for 18 years.  Researchers did not examine why the link between religious service attendance and obesity exists; however, study author Matthew Feinstein states in an article for CNN Health that “Our best guess about why is that . . . more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals that are more caloric in nature than we would like.”

The study’s release has sparked some provocative news headlines, including: “Praise the Lard? Religion fosters obesity by middle age,”  “Frequent churchgoers frequently fatter,” and “Religion and Obesity: Can church make you fat?”

Read the Northwestern University article about the study here.