16 May Attendance At Religious Services Linked To Increased Longevity in Women
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Tyler VanderWeele PhD
Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Epidemiology
Department of Biostatistics
Harvard T. H. Chan
School of Public Health
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. VanderWeele: There have been some prior studies on religious service attendance and mortality. Many of these have been criticized for poor methodology including the possibility of reverse causation – that only those who are healthy can attend services, so that attendance isn’t necessarily influencing health. We tried to address some of these criticisms with better methodology. We used repeated measures of attendance and health over time to address this, and a very large sample, and controlled for an extensive range of common causes of religious service attendance and health. This was arguably the strongest study on the topic to date and addressed many of the methodological critiques of prior literature. We found that compared with women who never attended religious services, women who attended more than once per week had 33% lower mortality risk during the study period. Those who attended weekly had 26% lower risk and those who attended less than once a week had 13% lower risk.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Dr. VanderWeele: For those who are already religious, service attendance may be an important and under-appreciated health resource. There is evidence that it provides social support, discourages smoking, decreases depression, and promotes optimism or hope. These things affect health and appear to improve longevity.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. VanderWeele: While we were able to provide some evidence that greater social support, lower depression, less smoking, and greater optimisms were mechanisms whereby religious service attendance affected mortality, we were not able to examine other potentially important mechanisms such as the possibility that attending religious services promotes self-discipline, or a sense of meaning and purpose in life, or by providing an experience of the transcendent. Future studies could examine these other mechanisms.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Dr. VanderWeele: Public health impact is often assessed based on how common an exposure is and how large its effects are. With religious service attendance, the exposure is common, as about 40% of Americans report attending weekly, and the effects appear to be relatively large. This suggests that religious service attendance may be an important social determinant of health.
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