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Obesity battle: Does God make you fat?

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(CBS) We don't recall any of the commandments saying "thou shall eat chocolate cake," but an unusual new study has found that people who regularly attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to battle obesity by middle age.

God only knows why. The scientists sure don't.

"We don't know why frequent religious participation is associated with development of obesity," said Matthew Feinstein, the study's lead investigator and a fourth-year student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's possible that getting together once a week and associating good works and happiness with eating unhealthy foods could lead to the development of habits that are associated with greater body weight and obesity."

The study tracked nearly 2,500 men and women over 18 years. They filtered for age, race, sex, education, income and baseline body mass index. The last one's important, because it shows that the religious were getting fatter, not that fat people were getting religious.

One thing the researchers could not account for was which God people were praying to. Feinstein says participants were mostly Protestant, but they didn't have enough information on other faiths to really gauge if any fared better than the others.

The news isn't all bad for the heavenly-minded.

"There have been a number of studies over the years that show more religious people tend to live longer, are less likely to smoke and have better mental health," Feinstein told CBS News. "Religious people are doing a lot right, but this is one special area where there is room for improvement."

In fact, another group at Northwestern is already experimenting with a faith-based weight loss program in a Chicago church. And there's reason to believe that those that pray together can also lose weight together.

So while God may work in mysterious ways, it's now clear that cookies and cake are pretty darn predictable.

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