Nav: Home

Religious upbringing linked to better health and well-being during early adulthood

September 14, 2018

Boston, MA - Participating in spiritual practices during childhood and adolescence may be a protective factor for a range of health and well-being outcomes in early adulthood, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers found that people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s--and were less likely to subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection--than people raised with less regular spiritual habits.

"These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices," said first author Ying Chen, who recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Chan School. "Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being."

The study was published online September 13, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Previous studies have linked adults' religious involvement to better health and well-being outcomes, including lower risk of premature death.

For this study, Chen and senior author Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, analyzed health data from mothers in the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). The sample included more than 5,000 youth who were followed for between 8-14 years. The researchers controlled for many variables such as maternal health, socioeconomic status, and history of substance abuse or depressive symptoms, to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing.

The results showed that people who attended religious services at least weekly in childhood and adolescence were approximately 18% more likely to report higher happiness as young adults (ages 23-30) than those who never attended services. They were also 29% more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33% less likely to use illicit drugs.

Those who prayed or meditated at least daily while growing up were 16% more likely to report higher happiness as young adults, 30% less likely to have started having sex at a young age, and 40% less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection compared to those who never prayed or meditated.

"While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking. In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness," said VanderWeele.

One limitation of the study is that it consisted mainly of children of white females of relatively high family socioeconomic status, and therefore might not be generalizable to a broader population, though prior research by VanderWeele suggested the effects of religious service attendance for adults may be even larger for black versus white populations. Another limitation was that the study did not look at the influences of parents and peers on adolescents' religious decisions.

While previous studies of adult populations have found religious service attendance to have a greater association with better health and well-being than prayer or meditation, the current study of adolescents found communal and private spiritual practices to be of roughly similar benefit.

Chen is now a research scientist with the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science's Human Flourishing Program, which VanderWeele directs.
-end-


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Related Mental Health Articles:

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: Mental health harms related to very frequent social media use in girls might be due to exposure to cyberbullying, loss of sleep or reduced physical activity
Very frequent use of social media may compromise teenage girls' mental health by increasing exposure to bullying and reducing sleep and physical exercise, according to an observational study of almost 10,000 adolescents aged 13-16 years studied over three years in England between 2013-2015, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
Can Facebook improve your mental health?
Contrary to popular belief, using social media and the internet regularly could improve mental health among adults and help fend off serious psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, finds a new Michigan State University study.
A gut feeling for mental health
The first population-level study on the link between gut bacteria and mental health identifies specific gut bacteria linked to depression and provides evidence that a wide range of gut bacteria can produce neuroactive compounds.
Mental health care increasing most among those with less distress
A new study shows that more Americans are getting outpatient mental health care and the rate of serious psychological distress is decreasing.
On-again, off-again relationships might be toxic for mental health
A researcher from the University of Missouri says that the pattern of breaking up and getting back together can impact an individual's mental health and not for the better.
Could mental health apps lead to overdiagnosis?
Mental health app marketing commonly presents mental health problems as ubiquitous and individuals as responsible for mental wellbeing; overdiagnosis and denial of the social factors related to mental health could result.
Student-run mental health education efforts may improve college mental health climate
Studies estimate that 20 percent to 36 percent of college students cope with some form of serious psychological distress, yet only about a third receive any services despite the fact they often have access to on-campus help.
How mental health diagnosis should be more collaborative
New research published in The Lancet Psychiatry finds that mental health diagnosis should be more collaborative.
Self-rating mental health as 'good' predicts positive future mental health
Researchers have found that when a person rates their current mental health as 'positive' despite meeting criteria for a mental health problem, it can predict good mental health in the future, even without treatment.
Medicating for mental health
University of Guelph researchers found evidence that a single bout of exhaustive exercise protects against acute olanzapine-induced hyperglycemia.
More Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.