Do churches make people fat? (A World Food Day* post)

 

Do churches make people fat?  I am not about bashing churches I just want to get your attention and make you think.  However, I am concerned that certain aspects of our culture provide an environment which makes it more difficult for people to maintain a healthy weight.  This is what is known as an ‘obesogenic environment.’  In such an environment a person is faced with a whole range of cultural cues and environmental factors that trigger overeating in general, the over consumption of the wrong kinds of food and a sedentary lifestyle.  The obesogenic factors involved in our society are far too numerous to list here but can range from simple things such as larger dinner plates (therefore larger portions sizes), to the ads we see on tv, to the way our cities are designed (reducing the ability to exercise).  These factors pervade our whole society and are not always readily identifiable, meaning we have to take to time to think about how the way society is structured affects the way we eat.  Our churches are part of the society so it is fair enough to ask are there any inbuilt cues, structure or factors in church life that contribute to the development of obesity to those who attend church.

I do not want to be exhaustive but rather provide a starting point with which we can begin to talk about this issue.  Something that comes to mind is the way some youth groups I have been involved with have regularly offered unhealthy snacks (potato crisps, coke, lollies, pizza etc) while the youth sit around a study or movie.  What does this teach teens about healthy eating?  In a similar fashion pot luck lunches are interesting but contribute to people losing the ability to judge portion sizes correctly.  As church life is by its very nature a series of social events it is inevitable that a good number of these events will contain obesogenic factors reinforcing existing bad habits people have obtained over a lifetime of an unhealthy approach to diet and exercise.

I do not think all churches are full of fat people.  This would be too simplistic a viewpoint as I see instances when groups in churches get together to play sports or lose weight.  My point is that each and every church needs to consciously and deliberately examine the ways in which church life throws up barriers to healthy living.  In my view it is awful to think that the way we organise church life makes it harder for some people to lose weight etc.  In my view it is not enough to wait until some is seriously ill or near death from complications relating to obesity before we act (usually in the form of prayer).  Should we not at least be concerned about the health of our fellow Christians now?  Action now would demonstrate that we love and care for each other.  In light of this I would rephrase my original question to, ‘Does my church contribute to the obesity of its people?’  And I would urge you to agitate for change where necessary for the sake of the health of your fellow worshipers.

 

Darren J. Clark

(*World Food Day is 16 October)

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