Sunday, June 6, 2010

Today's light reading: religion and health

"Advances in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Religion and Spirituality: Implications for Physical and Mental Health" American Psychologist, Vol 58(1), Jan 2003, 64-74:
From the abstract: Empirical studies have identified significant links between religion and spirituality and health. The reasons for these associations, however, are unclear. Typically, religion and spirituality have been measured by global indices (e.g., frequency of church attendance, self-rated religiousness and spirituality) that do not specify how or why religion and spirituality affect health.
Some surveys have shown a link between religion and good health.  Not if you find yourself on the wrong side of a religion, of course, but for many people who lead otherwise safe lives, the religion can, in some cases, lead to better health.  Some large percentage of disease incidence correlates with lifestyle (diet, stress, etc.), and religion can regulate that lifestyle. 

A series of studies of Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, found an increased lifespan for practitioners.  This is probably due to the healthy diet that the religion commands.  The increased lifespan of men, 7.3 years, over that of women, 4.4 years, may be an indicator that the diet is reducing risk factors that affect men more (e.g., heart disease).  Another study in Utah found that Mormon men live 7.3 years and Mormon women live 5.8 years longer than non-Mormon residents of that state.  Again, the causes may be lifestyle factors such as tobacco, alcohol, diet, and stress.

These results are not counter to humanistic belief.  Religion is about human psychology, not supernatural forces, and religion does offer help to some.  Others can find those benefits from non-religious sources.  And religion comes with a lot of baggage in order to get those good effects.

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