On any Sunday, you could walk into almost any Southern Baptist church in America and enjoy doughnuts and coffee before Sunday school, a potluck dinner on the grounds after the morning worship service or an ice cream social in the evening. Many of our church activities are centered on food. Food is a gift provided to us by God to enjoy and to sustain our physical bodies. But are we overdoing it?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity is now the number one health threat facing Americans — and the church is certainly not immune. A new study from Purdue University has revealed that church members tend to be more overweight than the general population and Baptists, including Southern Baptists, have the distinction of being the most overweight denomination in the study.
Ken Ferraro, the Purdue professor of sociology who led the eight-year study, examined the relationships between religion and both body mass index (BMI) and obesity. He noted the trend could have resulted from a “strong emphasis for Baptists to avoid alcohol and tobacco and, as a result, indulge in overeating instead.”
Unfortunately, our own statistics lend support to Ferraro's findings. Each year at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay's LeaderCare ministry sponsor a Wellness Center where convention messengers can take advantage of a free health screening. An Executive Summary Report of Wellness Center statistics for the 2005 convention showed that more than 75 percent of the 1,472 participants who completed the screening were found to be significantly overweight. Compare this to the national estimate that approximately 65 percent of adults are considered overweight, and you see a problem that the church must address.
There is no question that excess weight poses a serious threat to our physical health, but is there more to it than that? While some excessive weight problems may be due to medical problems, being overweight may also indicate a spiritual problem.
What can the church do? First, ministers need to look at themselves and determine if the change needs to start with them. Next, they must speak up, and encourage their church members to have discipline in all areas of their lives. Because the Bible addresses eating, indulgence, self control, self discipline, gluttony and other related sins, we need to be able to address this topic in our churches without fear of offense. Congregations are blessed when their pastor encourages them to make changes in their lifestyles that will ultimately bring glory to God.
Wendy Ashley is an insurance marketing support manager for GuideStone Financial Resources.