Sugar, Sugar: Christian Obesity

“From the symptoms, it sounds like your blood sugar is a bit low. Have a Dr. Pepper today. I give you permission.” I may not be a doctor or have stayed in a Holiday Inn last night, but I do know when a friend of mine is going down for the count and needs a friend to give a diet no-no the okay. “It’s a losing battle anyway. A new study just came out that showed that Christians are more likely to be obese.” WHAT?!

Well, a study of statistics…that’s all you needed to say. If there’s anything I learned in my statistics and sociology courses in college, it is to be skeptical of conclusions without seeing the data. The now-famous study that correlates a rise in chocolate ice-cream sales and a rise in rape is a classic example of overlooking contributing factors, like that both happen in the summertime.

With this in mind, I fired off a few ‘thoughts to ponder’ on this new study immediately. It is easy to shout out that preachers often do not preach on gluttony and that church picnics are notorious for outstandingly delicious high-calorie goods. Bringing salad to a potluck is not of God. Churches do have a knack for not being content with just The Lord’s Supper. We come together for Snacktivities, Prayer Breakfast, Brunch Bunches, etc.  I’ll admit it; I was about 5 before I realized that ‘fellowship’ did not mean food. How was I to know? Every time I was in the fellowship hall we were having a fellowship meal!  Still, time for a critical examination of other factors that could impact the Christian obesity statistics.

For example, those surveyed who claim to be church-going Evangelical Christians also most likely to live in the Midwest and Bible-belt South, which also statistically has the highest percentage of obesity in the United States. Traditional Southern cooking is extremely caloric; these hard-workin’ men needed good grub when plowing the back 40 acres.  Apparently agrarian lifestyles are easier to abandon that Grandma’s recipes and it’s starting to show. The Southern states also have BlueBell Ice Cream, which is more addicting than Thin Mints. (Curse you, diet-ruining Girl Scouts!) If they made Thin Mint Bluebell, all hope would be lost.  Back to the statistics: Southern states also have higher Hispanic populations, many of whom identify themselves as Christian or Catholic. Hispanic Women also rank highest for statistical likelihood for obesity, heart disease, etc. in the nation.

All this aside, I think the research is probably accurate but I know a MAJOR contributing factor that was probably left unconsidered; the sugar intake of church ladies. Last Sunday as I prepared to drop off my son at the nursery, a grandmother greeted us sweetly, playfully chased my toddler down the hall, and said, “I’m gonna get your sugar!” She scooped him up, kissed his cheeks, and undoubtedly drew 10 grams of sugar right out of the jugular sweet spot all babies have. They both giggled and smiled. It’s another very Southern thing, by the way, to kiss the sugar right out of baby cheeks. If one works in the church nursery long enough, one is bound to get diabetes.

I distinctly remember hearing about how my younger sister looked when my parents would pick her up from the church nursery. She was probably 6 months old at the time, and her highly kissable cheeks constituted 45% of her body weight. She was SO cute. Long before the days of security systems and electronic beepers, Mrs. Diane would sprint to the nursery while my parents picked me up, to ‘help them’ retrieve the baby (although there were only two babies in the nursery at the time). By the time my sister would be returned to my mother she was  saturated in perfume and her cheeks and neck were covered four shades of lipstick thanks to the leadership of Mrs. Diane and the waiting line of June, Dot, and Jean. I think the lipstick color may have disguised my sister’s paleness from losing 80% of her body sugar in an hour.

When I visited home with my little one several months ago, I had a delightful lunch with Mrs. Diane and my sister. Mrs. Diane immediately grabbed my 8 month old and ‘stole his sugar’. He giggled. She beamed. By the end of the lunch her eyes sparkled and she looked 5 years younger, radiating with joy. She is still stunning and fit although she has older grandkids of her own; I think baby sugar may be its own  fountain of youth. After kissing the sugar out of thousands of babies over the decades, I am amazed she isn’t on dialysis. One thing is for sure- we all know ‘Di Di’ loves us and our babies.

I LOVE when the church grandmothers accost me and lovingly demand to hold my baby for a while. YES, PLEASE! Be my guest! I am as happy to pass the weight of another human’s survival as you are to kiss his cheeks and steal his sugar.  The purpose of a grandparent is NOT to simply spoil the children, but to be a parenting enforcer who is wiser, more patient, more experienced, and on most days, more loving. When our churches isolate members by age groups, they are doing a major disservice to everyone in the congregation. The generations need each other. The babies need the love. The mothers need reassurance and a moment of quiet. The grandmothers need the sugar.

Yes, Christians may be more obese statistically. I am certainly grateful for the women who loved the sugar right out of my cheeks; they now love me and my children fiercely. In their own way, they are doing their part to fight childhood obesity every Sunday. When I’m the church lady that is so old the kids think I knew Moses personally, I hope to be waiting for the tired mommy warriors to arrive so I can beg them to ‘pass the sugar’.


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