Studies show that people with faith are healthier


(The Holland Sentinel, Friday, December 18, 1992)



NEW YORK (AP) – The links between health and faith keep accumulating. Two new studies add to evidence that religious belief and practice somehow contribute to physical vigor.
    
While past research has found that connection in religious groups with special dietary and anti smoking rules, it now has turned up in large, mainline denominations without the special disciplines.

Religious commitment itself was found to make the bodily difference. That factor also seemed to make the most difference in mainline denominations.
    
The latest research in this area was conducted at Purdue University by medical sociologist Kenneth F. Ferraro, with results published recently in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
    
His main conclusion: Those who practice their faith regularly are healthier than those who don't.
    
In the study, responses were gathered from 1,473 people nationwide, with the data controlled to eliminate such health-influencing factors as age, income and education.
    
"After we controlled for those factors we found that religion was having a surprisingly strong effect," he says. "It proved to be nearly as significant as age and social class."
    
In determining religious levels, respondents were asked how often they pray, whether they consider themselves strong in faith, how often they attend synagogue or church and whether they read religious literature.
    
Categorized by those factors as either "practicing" religion or "nonpracticing," the subjects comparative levels of health were gauged

It was found that twice more "nonpracticing" than "practicing" the subjects reported health problems.
    
Nine percent, or 133 of those in the nonpracticing category reported poor health, while only 4 percent, or 59 people in the practicing category reported poor health.
    
Also, while 26 percent, or 383 of the "never attenders" at worship, reported excellent health, 36 percent, or 530 of the "weekly attenders" reported excellent health.
    
Ferraro says the main religious factor affecting health was found to be participation, but he says religious affiliation also turned out to be significant.
    
For example, the findings showed that people affiliated with the more mainline denominations such as Episcopalian, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Roman Catholics have the better health.
    
In contrast, he says people reporting special religious affiliations such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Christian Scientists and some Baptists report lower health levels.
    
"Whether or not people are actively involved in their religion makes the biggest difference in health status," He says.  "However, the data also told us that the kind of religion they participate in makes difference, too."
    
He says future studies will explore reasons for that difference. He notes some groups restrict medical practices — Jehovah's Witnesses don’t allow blood transfusions and Christian Scientists shun various medical treatment.
    
On the other hand, he notes some conservative faiths prohibit smoking and eliminate caffeine from diets with "positive health results." This is the case with Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists, who also promote vegetarianism.
    
Past studies have shown Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists have lower rates of cancer, heart and circulatory disease and greater longevity than the general population.
    
Another recent study at Northern Illinois University in De Kalb, Ill., found consistent correlations between "religiosity" and health-related behaviors.
    
Findings of that study, conducted by William Oleckno, professor of community health, and Michael J. Blacconiere of Hines Veterans Administration Hospital near Chicago, were published in Psychological Reports.
    
Surveying a representative sample of 1,077 NIU students from various class years and academic majors, they were categorized for "religiosity" and "wellness."
    
"Religiosity" was based on frequency of attendance at worship and stated strength of religious commitment, while "wellness" was measured by such factors as the number of illnesses reported, avoidance of smoking, drugs and alcohol, plus use of seat belts.
    
"There was a positive association between religiosity scores and each of the dimensions of wellness," Oleckno said.



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