Research demonstrates that the typical Protestant pastor is

overweight, with poor eating and sleeping habits and high stress

(Original release date:  August 1, 2003)  In the biblical book of I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the athletic imagery of running a race to get his point across to readers.  New research among America’s clergy suggests it’s a good thing it’s only imagery Paul is using – if they were required to run an actual foot race, it’s doubtful some of them would finish.

 

Research conducted among a representative sample of 568 senior pastors of Protestant churches shows that the typical pastor is not in terribly good shape physically – they average under seven hours of sleep a night, are on average more than 30 pounds overweight, and often suffer from stress, skipped meals, unhealthy foods, and sleeping problems.

 

The research was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona.

 

In the study, 71% of all ministers admitted to being overweight, by an average of 32.1 pounds.  One-third of all ministers were overweight by at least 25 pounds, including 15% who were overweight by 50 pounds or more, which can be a dangerous health condition.

 

Weight problems probably should not be a surprise, given the eating habits of pastors.  Two-thirds of all pastors skip a meal at least one day a week, including 39% who skip meals three or more days a week.

 

When they are eating, they’re often not eating the right things.  Eighty-three percent said at least once a week they eat foods they know they shouldn’t because they’re unhealthy, including 41% who do this three or more days a week.  And the vast majority (88%) eat fast food at least one day a week, including one-third who eat fast food three or more days a week.

 

Not only do these eating habits suggest weight troubles, but they suggest digestive troubles, as well.  Four out of ten ministers (39%) reported digestive problems at least once a week.  For 14%, their digestive problems are chronic, occurring at least three days a week.

 

Pastors also often are not getting exercise.  Only half said they get the recommended minimum, which is 30 minutes of exercise at least three days a week.  Twenty-eight percent said they don’t typically get any exercise at all.

 

There are other problems, as well.  Almost nine out of ten ministers (87%) said they get less sleep than they need at least once a week, and almost half (47%) are getting less sleep than they need three or more days a week.

 

More than half have trouble sleeping at least once a week (46%), and one out of five have trouble sleeping three or more nights every week.

 

The sleep deprivation is real, and not just their perception.  The average minister gets 6.8 hours of sleep per night.  Just 16% regularly get the recommendation of eight hours or more per night.  On the other hand, 37% get fewer than seven hours of sleep each night.

 

With all of these unhealthy life patterns and health complaints, it’s probably surprising that not more ministers complained of physical problems or symptoms related to stress.  Fifty-two percent experience physical symptoms of stress at least once a week, and nearly one out of four (23%) are subjected to this three or more times a week.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that the youngest ministers are the ones with the least healthy lifestyle.  “The youngest ministers are the heaviest, the most likely to skip meals, the most likely to eat unhealthy foods, the least likely to get exercise, the most likely to go without sufficient sleep, the least likely to take vitamins, the most likely to eat fast food, and the most likely to report problems sleeping,” Sellers noted.  “It might be argued that these are eager young ministers out trying to change the world, or at least to build their careers.  But it’s tragic that they apparently are sacrificing their own health for these purposes,” he continued.

 

Study Details

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 568 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

A man too busy to take care of his health is like

a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.

Spanish proverb

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Grey Matter logo

How many days in a typical week do pastors experience the following…

Sleep habits of pastors…

Pastors’ weight issues…

 

Hours of Sleep per Night

All

Pastors

Small

Church

Medium

Church

Large

Church

Age
<45

Age

45 – 59

Age

60+

Under six hours

7%

6%

9%

7%

8%

7%

6%

6 to 6.9 hours

30

25

32

39

32

28

31

7 to 7.9 hours

44

47

42

40

43

43

44

8 hours or more

16

18

13

12

13

18

16

Average hours per night

6.8

6.9

6.7

6.7

6.8

6.9

6.9

 

Measure

All

Pastors

Small

Church

Medium

Church

Large

Church

Age
<45

Age

45 – 59

Age

60+

Get less sleep than they need:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

13%

17%

11%

8%

4%

11%

27%

   one or two

40

40

36

42

33

48

46

   three or more

47

43

53

50

63

41

27

Take vitamins or nutritional supplements of any kind:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

31

27

32

43

47

31

12

   one or two

6

5

10

3

8

6

4

   three or more

63

68

58

54

45

63

84

Take prescription medication:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

50

48

47

58

68

50

31

   one or two

2

2

3

2

1

2

2

   three or more

48

50

50

40

31

48

67

Eat fast food:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

12

13

11

7

8

9

20

   one or two

55

60

45

56

48

55

62

   three or more

33

27

44

37

44

36

18

Have trouble sleeping:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

46

44

51

46

40

47

51

   one or two

34

37

28

36

37

36

27

   three or more

20

19

21

18

23

17

22

Have any physical problems related to stress:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

48

51

46

41

45

42

64

   one or two

29

29

29

31

29

34

20

   three or more

23

20

25

28

26

24

16

Have digestive troubles:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

61

64

56

61

59

60

66

   one or two

25

23

31

22

25

27

19

   three or more

14

13

13

17

16

13

15

Work out or exercise for 30 minutes or more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

28

30

29

23

35

28

23

   one or two

22

23

17

27

28

25

13

   three or more

50

47

54

50

37

47

64

Skip any meals:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

34

38

28

29

29

30

47

   one or two

27

27

29

27

28

31

18

   three or more

39

35

43

44

43

39

35

Drink any alcoholic beverages:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

85

88

78

84

86

86

81

   one or two

8

7

13

7

9

7

11

   three or more

7

5

9

9

5

7

8

Eat foods you know you shouldn’t

   because they’re unhealthy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   none

17

14

16

18

7

16

28

   one or two

42

46

40

34

39

41

58

   three or more

41

40

44

48

54

43

14

 

Measure

All

Pastors

Small

Church

Medium

Church

Large

Church

Age
<45

Age

45 – 59

Age

60+

Are they currently (in their own estimation):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   underweight

5%

6%

6%

1%

5%

3%

9%

   just about right

24

22

19

33

30

21

28

   overweight

71

71

75

66

65

76

63

Pounds overweight (among those who are):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   1 to 14 pounds overweight

22

17

25

35

19

20

33

   15 to 24 pounds overweight

31

29

31

34

27

30

36

   25 to 49 pounds overweight

24

27

24

15

28

24

23

   50 pounds or more overweight

21

26

18

15

25

24

7

   average number of pounds overweight

32.1

36.0

28.5

27.3

38.9

33.4

22.2