November 24, 2010

Religious States the Fattest

Tim Covell from Born Atheist has put together one heck of a press release about an issue those of us living in some of the more religious states of the U.S. have long observed. Using data from the Calorie Lab and Gallup, he points to a relationship between religiosity and obesity at the state level.
The most religious state, Mississippi, is also the most obese. Similarly, the second most religious state, Alabama is the second most obese. In fact, nine out of ten of the most religious states are also the most obese: Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Kentucky all fall within the top ten in the religiousness and obesity ratings (see chart at the end of this media release).
Could the promise of some sort of new body in an imaginary afterlife lead the religious to neglect their bodies now, or does poor health lead people to religion? Covell acknowledges that these data do not support causal interpretations.

He suggests that additional research is needed to better understand the relationship between religiosity and poor health because it may have important implications.
In a country where 80% of the people are religious, Covell says, the general assumption is that religion is at worst harmless and at best beneficial. But, Covell says, his analysis opens the door to another possibility, that religion is bad for your health.
I have heard many religious people insist that religious belief leads to a number of beneficial effects on one's health. But from what I have seen of the published research, this claim is shaky at best. The other possibility - that certain forms of religious belief may actually be associated with poor health outcomes - is one that has not received sufficient attention.

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