Religion linked to Body Mass Index

Published 27 July 2012

Your religion may affect your body mass index (BMI), according to research from Southern Cross University.

Dr Michael Kortt, of the Southern Cross Business School, along with Professor Brian Dollery, of the University of New England, came up with the findings after analysing data from the Household Income Labour Dynamics (HILDA) survey.

Their findings have been published in the Journal of Religion and Health. BMI is an approximation of a person’s body fat using measurements of height and weight.

“We estimated the relationship between religion and BMI for a general and representative sample of the Australian population,” Dr Kortt said.

“Data from the HILDA survey were analysed for 9,408 adults aged 18 and older. Analyses revealed that religious denomination was significantly related to higher BMI, after controlling for an extensive range of socio-demographic, health behaviours and psychosocial variables.

“Baptist men had, on average, a 1.3 higher BMI compared to those reporting no religious affiliation. Among women, ‘Non-Christians’ had, on average, a 1 unit lower BMI compared to those reporting no religious affiliation while ‘Other Christian’ women reported, on average, a 1 unit higher BMI.

“Among Australian women, we found no evidence of a relationship between religious attendance and BMI. However, we did find evidence of a negative association between the importance of religion and BMI. Perhaps this finding reflects that the importance women attach to religion may help to control excessive eating. Whatever the rationale, there appears to be sound grounds for investigating further the relationship between religiosity and BMI in the Australian social context.

“Our study is restricted by its design, which limits the conclusions we can draw about the causality between religion and BMI.

“The causal direction could run in a converse fashion insofar as people with high BMIs may be drawn to religion for social support. However, there are sound grounds, through previous research, for assuming that the causal relationship runs from religion to BMI.

“Further research is required to fully understand the influence that religion may exert on BMI and what role religious organisations can be play in helping to combat the Australian obesity epidemic.”

Photo: Dr Michael Kortt.

Media contact: Steve Spinks media officer, Southern Cross University Gold Coast and Tweed Heads, 07 5589 3024 or 0417 288 794.