There is growing interest in understanding the connection between religion and health. One way that religion may influence health is through health behaviors; for example, religious beliefs may influence what someone eats. We wanted to see whether religious affiliation was linked to body weight using the MASALA Study data. MASALA includes 67% Hindus, 8% Sikhs, 7% Muslims, 6% Jains, 3% Christians, 2% other, and 6% individuals who do not have any religious affiliation.
We found that South Asians with Hindu, Sikh or Muslim religious affiliation had a higher body weight compared to those who had no religious affiliation. When we dug deeper to understand why this link exists, we found that dietary patterns, exercise, smoking and traditional cultural beliefs explained some of the link between religion and weight, but not all of it. Programs to help South Asians lose weight and prevent chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease may be more successful if they are conducted in partnership with religious organizations and if they are tailored to cultural and religious beliefs.