Some clergy may have higher obesity and chronic disease rates than their congregations


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Being a member of the clergy has its responsibilities, but the demands of the job may take a bigger toll than most people think. A new study found that some clergy members had higher rates of obesity and chronic diseases than their non-clergy counterparts.

The study, published online recently in the journal Obesity, surveyed 1,726 male and female members of the United Methodist clergy in North Carolina, asking their height and weight and if they’d ever been diagnosed with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease and asthma. The clergy members were predominately male (75%), white (91%), married (87%), older (average age 52) and highly educated.


Researchers from the Duke University Center for Health Policy found that obesity rates among all clergy ages 35 to 64 was 39.7%, about 10% higher than the general population of North Carolina. Obesity rates among male clergy ages 45 to 54 was 14.2% higher than North Carolinian men. However, fewer clergy were overweight compared to the general population -- 34.9% compared to 40.3%.

Clergy members also had significantly higher incidences of being diagnosed with certain chronic diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and asthma.

In the paper, the authors wrote: ‘Unfortunately, clergy face numerous challenges to exercise and healthy eating habits. These challenges include a vocation that is sedentary, with an average of four evenings per week away from home, and frequent work weeks of [more than 50 hours] with little schedule predictability.’ They added, ‘We can only speculate as to why self-reported disease rates were higher for clergy. Obesity is likely one contributing factor. Another reason may be a tendency among clergy to put the needs of others before their own, in their work to serve God.’

-- Jeannine Stein