A new observational study finds a correlation between frequency of attending religious services and a lower risk of death for women.
The study found religious practice was associated with lower death risk from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and from “all causes.” It appears online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
While religious practice is common in the United States, the effects of religious practice on health are not clear.
Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D., and coauthors including Shanshan Li, Ph.D., of Indiana University, used data from the Nurses’ Health Study in an analysis examining attendance at religious services and subsequent death in women. Attendance at religious services was assessed in questionnaires from 1992 to 2012; data analysis was conducted from the 1996 questionnaire to 2012 for a 16-year follow-up.
Among 74,534 women at the 1996 study baseline with reported religious service attendance, 14,158 attended more than once a week, 30,401 attended once per week, 12,103 attended less than once per week, and 17,872 never attended.
Most of the study participants were Catholic or Protestant. Women who frequently attended religious services tended to have fewer depressive symptoms, were less likely to be current mothers and more likely to be married.
Among the 74,534 women, there were 13,537 deaths, including 2,721 from cardiovascular disease and 4,479 from cancer.
Attending religious events more than once a week was associated with significant life advantages.
Specifically, women who attended religious services more than once per week had a 33 percent lower risk of death during the 16 years of follow-up compared with women who never attended religious services.
Women who attended services weekly had a 26 percent lower risk and those who attended services less than weekly had a 13 percent lower risk, according to the results.
The study indicates women who attended religious services more than once a week had a 27 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of death from cancer compared with women who never attended.
The authors note, however, that additional factors such as depressive symptoms, smoking, social support, and optimism may play a significant role in explaining the association between attending religious services and death.
Furthermore, the authors note that the study is limited in its ability to be extracted to all population groups because the study mainly consisted of white Christians and the participants were nurses with similar socioeconomic status and who were health conscious.
As such the study cannot imply a cause and effect relationship. However, the authors note that a randomized clinical trial of attendance at religious services is neither ethical nor feasible.
The researcher believe the finding are meaningful and could be used in a positive manner to improve health.
“Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” the authors conclude.
Commentary: Empirical Studies about Attendance at Religious Services, Health
“In this issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, Li et al. report a clear and moderately strong association between attendance at religious services and decreased mortality during a 16-year follow-up of a subgroup from the Nurses’ Health Study. …
“First, readers and investigators must, as do these authors, focus on the data, no more and no less, and not attempt to generalize beyond the evidence. …
“So what can we learn from this study? In this well-designed secondary data analysis, attendance at religious services is clearly associated with lower risk of mortality. This finding should not be ignored but rather explored in more depth,” writes Dan German Blazer II, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., in a related commentary.
Source: JAMA Internal Medicine/EurekAlert