Clergy and Body Mass Index — Getting Personal with BMI

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 6:19 1

One indicator of physical wellness is body mass index (BMI)—a calculation of weight-height relationship that provides an indicator of the proportion of body fat a person is carrying. Body fat is a recognized health risk indicator; keeping body fat in a normal or close-to-normal rage reduces risk of a variety of health problems and diseases.2

We asked clergy from post-seminary Transition into Ministry (TiM) programs to report their height and weight. From this, we calculated the BMI for each survey respondent. The following chart shows the average and range of BMI for TiM alumni, compared to Presbyterian clergy3 and to adult Americans in general.4

As shown below, the overall pattern for BMI among American adults is rather alarming. Over 40% are overweight, and over 30% meet the criteria for obesity. In comparison, Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastors are only somewhat less at risk: about 40% are overweight, and over 25% are obese.

This pattern has concerned leaders in several denominations. Duke University’s Clergy Health Initiative addresses a pressing concern in the United Methodist Church about clergy health by providing intensive help for pastors in reducing weight and increasing muscular tone through diet, exercise, education, and direct coaching.


Click image for larger view

Click image for larger view


The BMI for recently ordained TiM pastors and priests is notably lower than that of Presbyterian clergy and American adults, with a high proportion (nearly 45%) who are in what is regarded as the healthy range (18.5-24.9), and a markedly lower percentage in the overweight or obese range (fewer than 20% are obese).

Overall, this group of clergy (mostly in their thirties and early forties) appears healthier than their colleagues in ministry across the age span. However, even in this group of TiM clergy, a total of 53% are either overweight or obese. That’s far better than the 68% of Presbyterian pastors across ages and years of service, and the 74% of the American adult population, but it’s still a point of some concern.


For Your Consideration

  • What is your BMI? To calculate it, use this anonymous BMI calculator on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


We have noted elsewhere that there is a clear relationship between clergy’s self-ratings of wellness in a variety of areas of life and their self-efficacy, assertiveness, and work-life balance. This correlation makes sense. General self-efficacy and an appropriate degree of assertiveness improve not only people’s clarity and investment in their work but also their ability to set clearer limits on when to stop working. Pastors and priests with stronger assertiveness, commitment to work-life balance, and a sense of self-efficacy also report a stronger sense of physical, emotional, relational, financial, and spiritual wellness.

In many ways, these indicators of higher (or lower) quality of life are mutually reinforcing. Steady commitment to exercise and diet can increase self-confidence and assertiveness. Clear commitment in contracts to work-life balance can help guard clergy’s time and commitment for personal wellness.

Self-efficacy and assertiveness can help clergy set clearer boundaries with their work and commit themselves more steadily to creating habits for wellness. So psychological and social/institutional health interacts with physical health for clergy, as for anyone else.

One indicator of commitment to physical wellness is frequency of exercise. How often do these recently ordained TiM pastors and priests exercise? We asked, and compared their responses to those of longer-term Episcopal priests. 5

28b Chart - Weekly exercise

As the chart above shows, nearly 70% of TiM clergy report exercising daily or every few days—similar to the pattern among seasoned Episcopal priests. But, also similarly, nearly 20% of TiM pastors and priests (all ordained within the last 2-12 years) exercise less frequently than once a week.


For Your Consideration

  • How can clergy engage care of their bodies as a spiritual practice, as a commitment to caring for the “temples of the Holy Spirit” that are their bodies?
  • How can clergy practice time management more effectively in order to safeguard time for their own care and wellness—not only physically, but emotionally, relationally, financially, and spiritually?
  • How might clergy negotiate more effectively in their letters of contract and agreement with congregations—and how might congregations and judicatories attend more carefully to these contracts and agreements—so that time for clergy personal wellness is understood?
  • How might clergy help people in their faith communities develop stronger personal practices of wellness?


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1 New Revised Standard Version.

2 See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page on Body Mass Index for more information:

3 Data on Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastors is from an internal study of pastoral life and ministry in the Presbyterian Church.

4 Data on Americans is from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online report,

5 Data on Episcopal priests is from the Higher Quality in Ministry study of 1998-2004.