updated 2/14/2006 8:00:17 PM ET 2006-02-15T01:00:17

Mormons on average weigh 4.6 pounds more than other Utahans, a study by a Brigham Young University professor concluded. The study also found that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were 14 percent more likely than nonmembers to be obese. That was 18 percent for men, and 9 percent for women.

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The study was made by BYU health science professor Ray Merrill from data obtained in 1996, 2001 and 2003-2004 by the Utah Health Status Survey.

The most recent numbers, while still high, showed there has been some improvement since 1996, when Mormon adults were found to be 5.7 pounds heavier on average and 34 percent more likely to be obese.

Merrill's study suggests Mormons may be using excessive eating as a substitute for prohibited indulgences such as smoking and drinking.

"For years, the church has focused on the don'ts -- don't smoke, don't drink, and all the other things that you shouldn't do that are heavily enforced," said Steve Aldana, a BYU professor who presented some of the study's findings at a recent heart conference at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

"There has been little emphasis on the do's -- eat good foods and exercise," he said. "In the church, we have a lot of don'ts, and now finally here's a do -- go ahead and do eat -- and boy, do we eat."

Aldana, a health and human performance professor at the Mormon church-owned university, said the weight problem is a growing trend both in the state and in the nation as a whole.

"It's been a slow and gradual trend, and now when we stop and take a look, this is where we are ... this has crept up on us, and now it's dramatic," he said.

Aldana said the church is one of the few organizations actively working on the problem by instituting a wellness program for its employees and calling wellness missionaries. But, he said, there is much more to be done.

"You still aren't hearing this over the pulpit," he said.

A spokesman for the church declined comment, the church-owned Deseret Morning News said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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