Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Religion, social support, fat intake and physical activity

Karen Hye-cheon Kima1 c1 and Jeffery Sobala2

a1 Department of Health Education and Health Behavior, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 323B Rosenau Hall, CB #7440, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7440, USA

a2 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA


Objective: Most research on diet and exercise has focused on these health behaviours as proximate causes of disease, rather than examine the context of how diet and exercise are developed and maintained. This study examined religion and social support in relationship to fat intake and physical activity.

Design, setting and subjects: Data from surveys of 546 adults aged 17–91 years, residing in one upstate New York county, were analysed.

Results: Most relationships between the multiple facets of religion, fat intake and physical activity were not statistically significant. After controlling for demographics and social support, Conservative Protestant women and women specifying an ‘Other’ religious affiliation reported higher fat intakes than did Catholic women. There were no relationships between religion and fat intake in men. In women, religious commitment was associated with greater moderate and vigorous physical activity, whereas in men, divine social support was associated with greater moderate physical activity. Social support did not substantially change the magnitude of the relationships between religion, diet and physical activity.

Conclusion: Overall, there were few relationships between religion, fat intake and physical activity, suggesting that in contemporary US society religion may play a small role in the context of how diet and exercise are developed and maintained. The limited range of religiosity in the sample, however, may have underestimated the role of religion. Significant relationships between religion and physical activity in women suggest that further research is needed to more clearly delineate religion's relationship with health behaviours.

(Received August 19 2003)

(Accepted January 08 2004)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email