Words have power, study finds. The word “God” especially

I don’t know if anything new was discovered by this study in terms of that, but it’s an interesting report on results nonetheless. The study was done at the University of Waterloo by psychologists hoping to track what impact faith-based terminology had on ambition.

In the new study, the researchers primed more than 350 engineering students with the idea of God or faith, for example, by having participants write a sentence using a list of words with spiritual connotations. Students then completed skill tests in which they had to make as many words as possible from a group of letters. When prompted with religious imagery or language beforehand, the students came up with fewer words, regardless of their religious background, than those who hadn’t been primed with such imagery.

The researchers think the lack of effort in the “religious-primed” group could be dictated by a belief that fate is in God’s hands. If the students believe that God controls their destiny, trying to be better isn’t going to help them actually be better, resulting in less effort. This entire thought process seems to be unconscious, but just the presence of these God-conjuring words or images could alter behavior.

Another study was done involving students, references to God etc., and appetite for cookies. Those who were given something religious to read ahead of time were less likely to take them.

This effect, however, was found only among participants who had previously said they believe an omniscient entity watches over them and notices when they misbehave, though the strength of their devotion to that God didn’t come into play in any of the experiments, the researchers found.

Makes me think about the U.S. Bible Belt and their obesity problem, as it happens. Overindulging on fried foods doesn’t count as misbehaviour in their god’s eyes, I guess. Via an Emory University blog, I find an article posted at CNN in March. It’s not specifically about that area of the country, but the health of church-goers in general.

The new research, presented at an American Heart Association conference dedicated to physical activity, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, involved 2,433 people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The group was tested – at first between 20 and 32 years old – for various cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking. Those same tests were repeated in the same group over the next 25 years.

The results were mixed for many risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but as researchers analyzed the data, one disparity stood out. Those who reported attending church weekly, or more often, were significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attended infrequently, or never.

There was some debate on why that would be. Are people prone to reward themselves with excess food on account of perceived good works? Marriage gets tossed in as a theory, since weight gain tends to follow the ceremony and most churches could advertise themselves as matchmakers generally. They love seeing (heterosexual) people get married. The prevalence of the popular church potlucks get a nod, as does the fact that many churches have reduced the amount of time they give over to sport events like baseball teams and other recreational activities. Or possibly it’s because people choose church over organized sports for their families and then sit around all day after service instead of being active in any way. Day of rest and all that.

Like with anything else, it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact cause. There’s still the camp that insists church-life is a health benefit, of course, and as a stress reducer it’s still one of the most popular choices. Research has lent credence to the theory that it benefits longevity, too.

“The real value of the study is not understanding why,” said Feinstein. “What this study does is highlights a group that could potentially benefit from targeted anti-obesity initiatives. That’s exciting because there is a lot of infrastructure already in place in religious communities.”

That’s completely worthwhile. I wonder if they’d run into trouble with that, though, considering how many believers seem to prefer caring about their spiritual after-life than their current physical life. Are they really going to want to change how heavy and unfit they are on this earth if they think they’re guaranteed a perfect body on the other side? What’s the motivation to do a bunch of work on a body they won’t be keeping anyway?

Then there’s that flipside, of course, and the people who think all they should ever be eating is whatever Jesus and company may have been able to ingest. Like Daniel’s Diet, named for the prophet who foresaw a lot of things, including, I guess it can be argued, the need for future followers to slim down a little. That part of the site offers only testimonies that prove it works, not specifics for following it. I guess that’s why there’s a picture of a book people can buy if they want it.

Godweb features information about several Christian-themed weight-loss plans that try to answer the question of “What would Jesus eat?” when it seems fairly obvious going by scriptures available that there’s no way in hell anyone can actually know for sure.

The story of his life sends some very mixed signals as far a diet is concerned. First of all, he adopted a lifestyle that involved constant travelling, on foot, from village to village of his native Galilee and Judea. From the moment he began his ministry, he didn’t have a home.

Therefore his diet was shaped entirely by those who offered him temporary hospitality. It was a function of his decision to be an itinerant preacher. That fact that this involved a significant amount of walking, probably guarantees that he was not obese. Needless to say, he was not tempted by calorie rich Big Macs, french fries, soda or ice cream.

Still, nowhere in the words of Jesus can you find a word of criticism or even comment about the first century diets of his contemporaries. We simply do not know whether he approved or disapproved of the food served to him by those gracious enough to welcome him into their homes.

Constant travelling. On foot. Even if he was having grand seven course meals every night (damned unlikely), that’s a fine way to keep the weight off. Unfortunately, many of those who claim to follow Christ’s footsteps these days would much rather do it by car.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this. Bad planning on my part.

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