WACO, Texas (CBS Houston) – More than a third of American clergy are overweight or obese, finds a new Baylor University study.
Researchers asked 539 members of the pastoral profession about their lifestyles and found that low pay and high stress are the biggest contributors to stress factors that can drive weight problems.
But the researchers also found that professional clergy also have built in options to help relieve stress.
“In many religious traditions, the theology actually mandates at least one day a week to recuperate,” explained lead researcher Todd W. Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “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.”
Clergy who took advantage of time off and sabbaticals or took part in support groups with other pastors lowered their odds of gaining weight, found the study.
Ferguson, who is also a former associate pastor at a Houston Baptist church, said getting time off can be a problem.
“Pastors are ‘on’ or ‘on call’ at all times. The role or identity of a pastor is something you can’t just shut off,” he explained. “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.”
And many church leaders must take a second job to stay fiscally fit. The study showed that 10 percent lead more than one congregation, while 15 percent are employed in a second job of another type.
The researchers conclude the stress of an additional job, along with the extra hours and demands on a clergy’s time, may make it difficult to have a lifestyle that includes nutritious foods, exercise and time to recover from the physiological stresses that leads to weight gain.
The research is published in the journal Social Science Research.
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