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Shepherd Now Heavier Than His Sheep?

Friar Tuck

Friar Tuck

People working in certain professions bear a higher professional risk for weight gain – these include most people with sedentary jobs, but also chefs, professional drivers, shift workers as well as police and fire fighters.

One group that may bear a higher professional risk may have been overlooked: the clergy.

In a paper by Proeschold-Bell and Legrand from Duke University, published in this month’s issue of OBESITY, both obesity and related chronic diseases were reported to be surprisingly prevalent in a representative sample of North Carolina United Methodist clergy.

The study included 95% of all actively serving United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (n = 1726) and compared obesity rates and chronic diseases to the general population.

The clergy members were predominately male (75%), white (91%), married (87%), older (average 52 years) and highly educated.

Obesity rate, defined as a BMI greater than 30, among male and female clergy aged 35-64 years was 39.7% or a full 10.3% higher than their North Carolina population counterparts.

Among male clergy aged 45 to 54 years, obesity rates were almost 15% higher than in the North Carolinian male population of similar age.

In their paper, the authors speculate on what may explain these findings:

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.

This observation is by no means new. Posts on the problem of addictive eating amongst clergy (who have few other means of dealing with addictions) can be found on the Clergy Recovery Network and other relevant sites that deal with clergy health.

I, personally, doubt that this is just a chance finding amongst US United Methodists, who happen to be in North Carolina, one of the fattest states in the US.

Rather, I think that obesity amongst clergy in most faiths is rampant and that this problem is by no means new (if you recall the aptly named Friar Tuck). I guess keeping the pastor off the pastries has been a problem through the ages.

Wonder what my readers have to comment on this issue….?

Edmonton, Alberta

p.s. Join my new Facebook page for more posts and links on obesity prevention and management

Proeschold-Bell RJ, & H Legrand S (2010). High Rates of Obesity and Chronic Disease Among United Methodist Clergy. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 20448538


  1. Thanks for the information your site is very helped me build my blog!

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  2. I live in the southern U.S., and I’m Methodist. 🙂 The interesting thing is that two of the four Methodist ministers I’ve had are overweight or obese. Another was super fit, and the other was not overweight.

    I’ve been in other congregations (one in Canada… Vancouver… a very fit city), and our pastors there (all three of them– were slim and in good shape as was most of the congregation). That is definitely not the norm in any church communities I’ve seen in the U.S. I’d say at least half of U.S. pastors are either overweight or obese.

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  3. I think you are correct. Overeating is a stress response. You can imagine the stress that these people go through listening to the issues and problems of the community. In addition, they likely “break bread” in many community settings and as such eat much more breads and sweets that most of us are exposed to….

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