For Pastors, It’s Easy to Pack on the Pounds

For Pastors, It's Easy to Pack on the Pounds

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Stress, long hours and low pay are among the reasons why more than one-third of clergy in the United States are obese, according to a new study that also identified a number of ways that pastors can reduce their risk of obesity.

Researchers analyzed data on clergy members from various denominations and religious traditions and found that due to low pay, 10 percent led more than one congregation and 15 percent had a second job of another type.

The stress of another job, along with long hours and demands of leading a congregation, seem to make it difficult to stick to healthy habits such as a nutritious diet, exercise and time to recover from mental stress that leads to weight gain, according to the study authors.

“Pastors are ‘on’ or ‘on call’ at all times. The role or identity of a pastor is something you can’t just shut off,” lead researcher Todd Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said in a university news release.

“And you are in an organization that relies partly — or even fully — on volunteers rather than a paid staff, who can leave on a whim,” he added.

The researchers also found that clergy members who take a day off each week, take a sabbatical, or belong to a support group of other pastors had a lower risk of obesity.

“In many religious traditions, the theology actually mandates at least one day a week to recuperate,” Ferguson said. “Also, some pastors have the opportunity to be part of a small, intensive, introspective group of other pastors, and that can help with stress. There are structures in place that can actually help them cope and lower their chances of obesity.”

Twenty percent of clergy in the study had taken a sabbatical in the past 10 years, while 43 percent were in a support group, according to the study published in the January issue of the journal Social Science Research.

More information

To learn more about losing weight, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.