It’s a given that the Church is supposed to be responsible for its members’ spiritual needs. In a sense, the church feeds the sheep.
To be sure, the church also is to show concern for the physical needs of its members.
Churches have deacon funds that help its members with financial hardships. They have food pantries that supply food to the hungry. And church leaders often also anoint, pray, and care for the sick.
But what about the physical health of the church members before they get sick? Does the church have a responsibility to warn its members of unhealthy physical activities that lead to physical illness?
I’m not alluding to sexual sins that could lead to transmitted diseases.
There’s something much more out in the open that the church is ignoring. I’m talking about obesity and gluttony.
The church is not immune to the problem. And, worse, it might even be abetting it.
Let’s take a look.
An Obesity Epidemic Within Our Midst
There is good news concerning obesity trends in the United States. It appears that the decades-long climb in obesity rates is beginning to slow down.
A recent report found that,
The adult obesity rate decreased in Kansas between 2015 and 2016, increased in Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, and West Virginia, and remained stable in the rest of states.
Now for the bad news. Approximately 37.7% of adult Americans are still obese, as are about 17% of children. If we add in the category “overweight”, those numbers rise to over 66% and 35% respectively.
Do these statistics mean that the U.S. is a nation of gluttons? More on that later.
Defining Obesity and Overweight
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines the word obese in terms of body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.
If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range. If your BMI is 25.0 to <30, it falls within the overweight range. You can calculate your BMI here.
Be aware that BMI is not always a good indicator of obesity. Individuals who have a high percentage of muscle mass can show a high BMI and still be very healthy. For the general population, though, this is not usually the case.
Obesity And Diabetes
The incidence of obesity in the U.S. is truly frightening considering its high correlation to type 2 diabetes. Approximately 12.2% of adult Americans (30.2 million people) have diabetes (90-95% type 2) and approximately 33.9% of U.S. adults (84.1 million people) have prediabetes. That means over 114 million people (or approximately 47% of American adults) have diabetes or prediabetes.
Let’s put that in context. Unless your church is filled with really healthy, extraordinarily active people, there’s a good possibility that someone sitting on either side of you in the church pew is either overweight or obese.
There’s also a good possibility that that person sitting next to you has either diabetes or prediabetes. And it’s going to get worse. The CDC projects that one in three adults could have diabetes by 2050. Remember also that obesity and diabetes are highly associated with heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Obesity, Diabetes And The Church
The highest occurrence of obesity and diabetes in the U.S is found in states that comprise what is known as the Bible Belt. Nine of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.
It would stand to reason that a significant percentage of people with obesity are Christians.
In fact, there are some studies that suggest that the church is not immune from the obesity epidemic.
A 2006 study by Purdue University found that obesity is significantly present in the church, especially among Baptists.
At the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, 1,472 participants presented for wellness screening. Of those participants, 75% were found to be significantly overweight.
A 2011 Northwestern University study tracking 3,433 men and women for 18 years found that individuals with “a high frequency of religious involvement were more likely than those with none to become obese between young adulthood and middle age, even after accounting for demographics.”
This study didn’t explicitly say the participants were Christians, but it was implied.
Finally, a 2001 Pulpit and Pew study of 2,500 clergy members found that 76% were either overweight (46%) or obese (30%) compared to 61% of the general population at the time of the study.
However, since none of these studies are large or highly scientific, I don’t believe they are sufficient to prove that the church has a greater obesity problem than the nation as a whole.
It may, but I don’t know. I doubt the church does anything out of the ordinary to encourage obesity.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t do anything at all to encourage it. I’ll get into that shortly.
Is The Church Filled with Gluttons?
Merriam-Webster defines gluttony as eating or drinking to excess. There’s little doubt that the Bible characterizes it as a sin.
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23: 20-21)
When the Pharisees tried to disparage Jesus, they accused him of being a glutton.
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)
Some denominations also considered gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins.
So are our churches filled with individuals who are guilty of the sin of gluttony? And if so, shouldn’t we be hearing more about it from the pulpit?
Let’s tread carefully here.
Obesity Is Not Synonymous With Gluttony
Just because someone is obese that doesn’t necessarily make him a glutton. I’m sure the Pharisees weren’t accusing Jesus of being obese.
Also, the person gorging on meat in Proverbs 23: 20-21 would probably not become obese by constantly eating meat. I know people on 100% meat diets, and they are not overweight or obese.
In the Bible, gluttony is usually associated with drunkenness. It’s a form of riotous living where a person’s god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
I don’t believe that’s what we’re seeing in the church. This may be true of some obese people, but it may also be true of underweight individuals.
The overwhelming number of overweight and obese individuals are not gluttons. Some individuals may be consuming too many calories, but again that doesn’t make them a glutton.
So what’s the problem? Why are there so many obese people in our country and also in our churches?
The answer to this question lies in why people get obese in the first place.
Why Do People Become Obese?
Obesity is a relatively new phenomenon in our country. Here’s a chart of the rise in obesity rates since the 1960s.
Did you notice when the rates in obesity started to rise? It was 1980. Did something happen in 1980 that caused obesity to start rising?
In 1980, the USDA came out with their new dietary guidelines on healthy eating for the U.S. public. The USDA, relying on the flawed research of Dr. Ancel Keyes, recommended a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fats (HCLF). See here.
Still relying on Keyes’ research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that Americans consume 51% of their daily calories as carbohydrate, 32% fat, and 18% as protein (I know the numbers don’t add to 100%, but I took the numbers from the USDA site). They say that saturated fats should total less than 10% of total calories.
The FDA recommends a similar breakdown of 60% calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 10% from protein.
Why is this important? Because it wrongly assumes that all calories are the same. And this led to the recommendation of a diet that was detrimental to the health of the American public.
Your Body Doesn’t Treat All Calories The Same
For years dieticians have told us that a calorie is a calorie. In other words, the consumption of a calorie of carbohydrate will have the same effect on your body as a calorie of fat.
They propose a new theory that suggests that your body exhibits a completely different response to carbohydrates than to fat or protein. This has led to what is called the Carbohydrate-Insulin cause of obesity.
In this model, obesity is primarily caused by an overconsumption of refined carbohydrates such as sugar, pasta, bread, rice, and fructose. And to a lesser extent carb dense vegetables like potatoes.
When you consume a refined carb, your small intestine breaks it down into glucose. This glucose finds its way into your bloodstream. Your pancreas in response secretes insulin to remove the glucose from your blood.
Insulin is basically a storage hormone. Whatever glucose you don’t use for energy will be converted into glycogen in the liver and stored for future energy.
When you sleep, insulin levels fall and your body releases some of the stored food energy to power your body. If your times of eating and fasting are balanced, everything is okay.
Unbalancing The System
However, your liver has a limited storage capacity for glycogen. If you consume more carbs (glucose) than your liver can store as glycogen, then your liver converts the excess glucose to fat. Insulin will then store this fat in fat cells (adipocytes) throughout your body.
So you get fatter (though you may not be obese). If you continue to over consume refined carbs year after year, you will get fatter and fatter.
Nobody becomes obese overnight. But if you’ve gained just 2 pounds a year for the last 30 years, you’re now 60 pounds overweight.
The Big Problem: Too Much Insulin
The big problem arises when this process continues for years. For some obese people (but not all), at a certain point, their cells become resistant to the work of insulin. In response, their body produces more insulin in order to try and get the fat into the adipocytes. But no luck. They’re all filled up.
However, the fat has to go somewhere. So insulin tries to pack it in their liver (fatty liver), pancreas, muscles, around your abdomen, wherever it can.
But these organs also become resistant to insulin. Eventually, their pancreas cannot keep up with insulin demand and glucose starts piling up in their blood. Now they have developed type 2 diabetes.
This is a simplified version of the theory, but I think you get the picture.
See Dr. Peter Attia explain why we should be focusing on excess insulin as the cause of obesity and diabetes.
Why Can’t Obese People Just Go On A Diet?
Some people might be tempted to say that obese people should just go on a diet. Really, don’t you think they’ve tried dieting?
News flash: Dieting doesn’t work.
Sure, people who go on a diet lose weight. And then what happens? Six months to a year later they put the weight right back on. And sometimes they put on a little more.
Do you remember that TV show The World’s Biggest Loser? The dirty little secret is that every participant from the first season regained almost all the weight they lost in spite of their efforts to keep it off.
Researchers were startled when they discovered that and even more startled when they found out the reason.
Your Body’s Set Weight
It does this by slowing down its metabolism. Therefore, even if you maintain the same calorie restricted diet, you’ll eventually gain the weight back.
Dr. Michael Schwartz, an obesity and diabetes researcher who is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, said,
The key point is that… you can lose enormous amounts of weight, you can go on for six years, but you can’t get away from a basic biological reality. As long as you are below your initial weight, your body is going to try to get you back.
This is why all calorie restricted diets fail.
Obesity And Hunger
Researchers are beginning to find that hunger cravings have a big role to play in obesity. There are several theories on this, but I’ll mention just two.
The first is a dysregulation in the hormone leptin. When fat cells are full, they secrete leptin. Leptin then signals your brain that you have enough stored energy. Your brain then produces a feeling of satiety and you stop eating.
However, when there is an over abundance of fat cells or they grow too large more leptin is secreted. Eventually, a resistance to the effects of leptin develops. That means that even though you’ve eaten enough, your brain is telling you that you’re still hungry. Consequently, you eat more. See here.
There is also research being done concerning the relationship between dopamine response in the brain and food cravings. It appears that dopamine is related to a reward response, and this could induce people to overconsume. There is still some controversy in this field.
As you can see, obesity is a lot more complicated than just suggesting someone is a glutton.
Healing Obesity And Diabetes
The one sure way to cure obesity and type 2 diabetes is by reducing the amount of excess insulin in the body.
This is done through two means.
The first is a new way of eating. This entails the reduced consumption of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup. Significantly lowering carbohydrate and sugar intake will lower your blood glucose. That will subsequently lower the secretion of insulin.
However, for the very obese, losing weight this way may take a considerable amount of time.
A low-carbohydrate healthy-fat diet coupled with time-restricted eating (fasting) seems to be the most effective way to heal obesity and diabetes in the shortest amount of time.
If you don’t consume calories, then zero insulin will be released. Also, existent fat stores will be burned for energy. For more on the weight-loss benefit of fasting see here.
What Does This Mean For The Church?
You’ve probably heard the non-biblical proverb, “You can be too heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” In a sense that applies here.
People are created body and soul. As the church strives to feed the soul, it should not neglect the health of the physical bodies of its members. After all, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The church should exhort its members to take care of their bodies as well as their souls and minds.
In our midst, there are people getting sicker and sicker because they’ve been fed a pack of lies.
The church should inform them to be skeptical when a godless government informs them that this is the healthy way to eat.
Feeding The Sheep Wrongly
Would we serve wine at our church gatherings? Instead of coffee and donuts, how about we serve a nice Merlot and some cheese.
There’s no sin concerning the modest intake of wine, is there?
But we don’t serve wine because it can be a stumbling block to people who’ve had a previous problem with it.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. (Romans 14:20)
So, then, why do we serve carb dense sugar loaded food to people who have a problem with their weight! I’m thinking here: cookies, cake, bagels, and sugar for their coffee. If you don’t think sugar is a poison, read Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar. See also here.
Why place sugary treats in front of people who are slowly being harmed by too much consumption of sugar?
The church has to rethink its position on obesity and health. We neglect rightly guiding the sheep at our own peril.
If we don’t do it, Google will. See Dr. Mercola’s new article on Google Apocalypse.
That’s it for today. What are your thoughts?