Duke University researchers have completed a two-year health intervention that resulted in improvements in weight, cholesterol and blood pressure to more than 1,100 Methodist clergy in North Carolina.
The study's lead researcher, Rae Jean Proeschold Bell, said pastors in North Carolina tend to be less healthy than the general population, likely due to stress and overeating.
“You would think of pastors as being healthier, because they have health insurance, they're employed so they get an income, and they're highly educated,” Proeschold Bell said. “In fact they're not, and it's being driven primarily by obesity.”
Proeschold Bell said nearly 80 percent of pastors are overweight or obese, which can lead to chronic health problems. The study improved metabolic health factors, but had no significant effect on stress.
Participants showed improvements in weight and heart health, but not in their levels of stress and depression.
Proeschold Bell said North Carolina pastors have higher rates of obesity and depression than expected for their demographic.
“Pastors are stressed, as many caregivers are,” she said. “But with stress, your body starts to change, and it starts to hold your calories.”
Proeschold Bell said the pastors' success could have applications for other caregivers or large groups of employees. She said future studies with pastors may focus on preventing depression.
The Duke Endowment funded the intervention to last longer than most health studies, which tend to be six months long.
Proeschold Bell said the study's focus on self-care and using theological beliefs as motivators could have applications for health care of caregivers and clergy of other faiths.