CHICAGO (CBS) — If you’re young and religious, are you more prone to obesity by middle age?

A new study by Northwestern University says yes.

The study says those who attend regular religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age as those who have no religious involvement, according to a news release.

The report does not have a definitive explanation for how faith can be related to weight, although some researchers offer speculation.

”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,” lead investigator and Northwestern Feinberg School medical student Matthew Feinstein said in a news release.

Past Northwestern studies have shown older adults who are strongly involved with their religion are more often obese in middle age. But those studies only measured the correlation at a single point in time, whereas the latest study tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years to determine a trend.

“By tracking participants’ weight gain over time, the new study makes it clear that normal weight younger adults with high religious involvement became obese, rather than obese adults becoming more religious,” the Northwestern news release says.

The study found adults between the ages of 20 and 32 with a normal weight who attended religious services once a week or more, were more likely to be obese by middle age.

Obesity is officially defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. A woman standing 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds, for example, is obese, Northwestern said.

The study points out that the findings do not mean those involved in religious activities are necessarily in poorer health overall. Those who are religious actually tend to live longer than those who are not, in part because they smoke less, the release said.

Feinstein said in the release that church-based interventions can be helpful to combat obesity, and Northwestern is already leading one at a church on the city’s West Side.

Watch & Listen LIVE