Merrill gathered data on hundreds of Utah adults from different faiths in 1996, 2001 and 2003-2004, using information from the Utah Health Status Survey. For 2003-2004, he found that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed on average 4.6 pounds more than other residents and were 14 percent more likely to be obese.
Why the weight disparity?
"As part of Mormon culture, refreshments at meetings play an important role, and are often expected," Merrill said. "Also, persons who are overweight or obese in the church are accepted in full fellowship. On the other hand, a smoker or alcohol drinker will not be allowed to receive a temple recommend or go on an LDS church mission."
Another BYU professor, Steve Aldana, suggested Mormons may use food as a vice much in the way other people use tobacco, alcohol or drugs, which the church prohibits.
"We have a lot of don'ts in the church and not many dos," said Aldana, who teaches lifestyle medicine. "This is one of the things you can do and indulge in, and I think we do a little more than we should."
The gap was even wider in 2001, when LDS adults weighed on average 6.1 pounds more.
Among those who do not exercise, LDS members weighed 10.5 pounds heavier than non-LDS in 2001 and 6.1 pounds heavier in 1996.
"Exercise is even harder to get than good nutrition," Aldana said. "You have to allocate time and energy to exercise. Lack of physical exercise and poor diet are causing chronic disease. Something is going to have to change. Governments, churches and businesses should encourage people to change their behavior."
Tipping the scales
-- A new study from BYU has found:
-- 2003-2004: Mormons weighed on average 4.6 pounds more than those with other religious preferences or no religious preference.
-- 2001: Mormons were 6.1 pounds heavier.
-- 1996: Mormons were 5.7 pounds heavier.