Friday, March 25, 2011

Provocative Journalism or Borderline Irresponsible?

I shouldn't even be writing right now, but I rise from my sickbed long enough to draft a response to this column. I hope that it wasn't written as a way to insult organized religion, but if it is, I'm surprised MSNBC agreed to publish it on its website. The construction is clever enough to not read like a hit piece, but the way it starts out seems snide enough to reveal its true sentiments.

Most people are respectful of the fact that I am a person of faith. I never ask for any special consideration, only to be left alone to worship as I choose. The same goes for many other people I know. And, rest assured, I am just as disgusted as anyone to read or hear about instances where organized religion has damaged lives. But the article above isn't content merely to treat religious expression with a backhanded sneer, it also links the practice to obesity. If that wasn't so offensive, it would be an interesting juxtaposition of a sort. Sometimes people who are religious are treated by the rest of society the same as if they were overweight.

Still, this is a ridiculous premise. At its face, the article seems to imply that not being involved in a religious gathering is somehow healthier. Though it is qualified somewhat by the conclusion, the blaring headlines say otherwise. I'm sure that some people who take this piece seriously might even reconsider being actively involved for fear of gaining weight. The question of obesity in American life is a contentious one that I will avoid for the most part, but a secondary argument appears to be that keeping healthy involves avoiding temptation to overeat.

Observe the headline below.

Praise the lard? Religion linked to obesity in young adults

Weekly church activities boost obesity 50 percent by middle age, 18-year study shows

The article never explains how data was gathered and analyzed. Nor does it tell us which denominations, religions, churches, or branches contributed. Nor are we told what regions of the country were surveyed. Instead we are to take its facts and figures at face value. I'm also not exactly sure what conclusions I am to draw from it, besides a swipe at religious gatherings designed for young adults. The Young Adult functions I help organize are usually pretty healthy, food wise. With so many dietary restrictions among us, what is served often trends towards the bland more than the rich. And we do usually try to eat healthy.

“Our main finding was that people with a high frequency of religious participation in young adulthood were 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age than those with no religious participation in young adulthood,” says Matthew Feinstein, the study’s lead investigator and a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

By the end, the article does put a more positive face on church membership and religious affiliation, but I still fail to see how this qualifies as "news". Throughout the day, we have ample opportunity to overeat. Work-related conferences and gatherings are often awash in fattening food. Assuming we are at least semi-affluent, we have the ability to purchase cheap, unhealthy products on almost every corner. The problem here is not a religious one. Rather, it is a question of living in a culture of abundance. But that's a different subject altogether.

The article does conclude on an upbeat note, though only as a kind of apology for how it started out.

Feinstein says while obesity appears to be an issue for religious people, previous studies have shown that the faithful tend to live longer, be less likely to smoke, and to have better mental status.

If this entire column was meant to counter-balance earlier findings, that's one thing, but it could have been put together so much better. I wonder if the offensiveness and heavy-handedness I'm picking up on reflects the author's bias or a desire to be controversial enough to garner attention. In any case, I couldn't let it go unchallenged.

1 comment:

Vol-E said...


It's irresponsible, and quite a few of the atheist bloggers I read concur. This is mainly because of the research methods -- they tracked a group for 20 years or so and recorded changes in their weight and eating habits, but NOT their religious activities. Totally bogus "science."

Been catching up with your posts and hope your recovery is swift. Glad you have a supportive partner.