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CULTURE DIGEST: 1 in 6 in U.S. is Hispanic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hispanics and Asians were the two fastest-growing demographic groups in the United States in the past decade, according to census results, with Hispanics accounting for more than one half of the U.S. population increase and setting a new milestone: one in six Americans is Hispanic.

The Census Bureau released its first set of national findings in March based on last year’s census, reporting the racial breakdown of the United States as 196.8 million whites, 50.5 million Hispanics, 37.7 million blacks and 14.5 million Asians.

More than 9 million Americans checked more than one race category last year, up 32 percent from 2000, indicating significant multiracial growth, msnbc.com noted.

Analysis of the data conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that the number of Hispanics reported last year surpassed census estimates in about 40 states, with many of the largest gains in southern states including Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina. For the first time, Hispanic population growth was higher than growth among blacks and whites in the South.

The Census Bureau said its job simply was to count the population, not determine which residents were legal and which were illegal.

Census data will result in a shift of 12 House seats and electoral votes affecting 18 states beginning with the 2012 elections, msnbc.com said, and changes could result in more Hispanic majority districts. Most of the states gaining seats, such as Texas and Florida, are Republican-leaning though their growth is driven by Democrat-leaning Hispanics.

Also for the first time, Asians had a larger population gain in the United States than blacks, who apparently are moving to the suburbs of growing southern metro areas including Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, the Census Bureau found.

In at least 10 states, more than half the children reported were minorities, up from five states a decade ago. Those states are Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, California, New Mexico and Hawaii.

“This really is a transformational decade for the nation,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, said, according to msnbc.com.

CHURCH ATTENDANCE, WEIGHT GAIN CONNECTED — A study presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association found that young adults who frequently attended religious activities were more likely to become obese than those who didn’t, even when adjusted for variables such as age, race, gender, education, etc.

“We didn’t look specifically at the potluck factor, but anecdotally, we know that oftentimes at these religious gatherings people will eat traditional comfort foods which are often high in fat and calories and salt,” Matthew Feinstein, the study’s author and a student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said.

Jessica Ward, a 30-year-old Lutheran, told msnbc.com, “You don’t see a lot of fresh stuff at most church potlucks. You’ll see spaghetti and Swedish meatballs and three or four varieties of potato casserole or green bean casserole or Jell-O salads. Plus heaps and piles of desserts — lots of pies and cakes and cookies.”

By tracking 2,400 men and women for 18 years, researchers found that normal-weight adults ages 20 to 32 years with a high frequency of religious participation were 50 percent more likely to be obese by middle age. In the study, high frequency of religious participation was defined as attending a religious function at least once a week.

The research did not reveal a reason for the link between religion and obesity, but commentators speculated that a culture of eating could be to blame.

“There’s certainly a church culture around eating,” Erik Christensen, a Lutheran pastor in Chicago, told msnbc.com. “What I see among congregants in their 20s and 30s is they are very fit, and what I see among congregants in their 50s and 60s is disproportionate obesity.”

Christensen noted that people who spend time at church activities may have to forgo involvement in athletic or recreational activities, which over time could lead to weight gain.

Feinstein cautioned that his findings don’t indicate churchgoers have worse overall health than non-religious people. Previous studies have shown that religious people tend to live longer than those who aren’t, partly because of lower smoking rates.

“Here’s an opportunity for religious organizations to initiate programs to help their congregations live even longer,” Feinstein said. “The organizations already have groups of people getting together and infrastructures in place that could be leveraged to initiate programs that prevent people from becoming obese and treat existing obesity. Church-based interventions have shown promising results.”

EVANGELICALS KEY IN IOWA CAUCUSES — Evangelicals in Iowa are driving the presidential conversation away from the economy and toward cultural issues as key caucuses approach, according to the Associated Press.

In 2008, evangelicals helped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, win the state’s Republican caucuses. Since then, social and religious conservatives have stepped up their organization efforts with a series of forums for presidential candidates, AP said.

“They’ve harnessed the new technology and new methods to organize and activate their members. They are professionally run, and they are a top-notch organization,” Republican strategist Bob Haus said, with another commentator adding that social conservatives in Iowa “have essentially the best organization of the various Republican constituencies.”

AP said the increased activity among evangelicals in Iowa can be attributed in part to an ongoing battle over “gay marriage.” Two years ago, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a decision legalizing “gay marriage,” and voters responded by rejecting three Supreme Court justices because of their role in the ruling.

“Unlike at the national level where social issues are taking a backseat to the economy, there’s no sign that Iowa Republicans are moving away from discussing topics like gay marriage and abortion,” AP said. “Thus, the state could be fertile ground for likely contenders who play up their opposition to those issues and others that the right detests.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were listed among those who have been willing to address such topics. Meanwhile, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels suggested that the party call a truce on social issues, which didn’t go over well in Iowa.

“Anybody who calls a truce when the abortion clinics are running 24/7 is not a true pro-lifer. That’s giving up the battle,” Chuck Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Center told AP.

In Iowa, presidential hopefuls are going to have to address the social issues whether they like it or not, a state representative said.
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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