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:

Food insecurity can affect your mental health
Food insecurity (FI) affects nearly 795 million people worldwide. Although a complex phenomenon encompassing food availability, affordability, utilization, and even the social norms that define acceptable ways to acquire food, FI can affect people's health beyond its impact on nutrition.
Climate change's toll on mental health
When people think about climate change, they probably think first about its effects on the environment, and possibly on their physical health.
Quantifying nature's mental health benefits
The BioScience Talks podcast features discussions of topical issues related to the biological sciences.
Sexism may be harmful to men's mental health
Men who see themselves as playboys or as having power over women are more likely to have psychological problems than men who conform less to traditionally masculine norms, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
Mental health matters
UCSB researchers study the effectiveness of an innovative program designed to help youth learn about mental health.
Could mental math boost emotional health?
Engaging the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DL-PFC) while doing mental math may be connected with better emotional health, according to Duke researchers.
Program will train mental health providers, improve health care in rural Missouri
A new graduate education program at the University of Missouri has received nearly $700,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the US Department of Health and Human Services to train psychology doctoral candidates in integrated, primary health care settings, in an effort to improve health care for underserved populations with mental health and physical disorders.
Loss of employer-based health insurance in early retirement affects mental, physical health
The loss of private health insurance from an employer can lead to poorer mental and physical health as older adults transition to early retirement, according to a study by Georgia State University.
Ocean views linked to better mental health
Here's another reason to start saving for that beach house: new research suggests that residents with a view of the water are less stressed.
New study shows electronic health records often capture incomplete mental health data
This study compares information available in a typical electronic health record (EHR) with data from insurance claims, focusing on diagnoses, visits, and hospital care for depression and bipolar disorder.

Related Mental Health Reading:

Varcarolis' Foundations of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing: A Clinical Approach
by Margaret Jordan Halter PhD APRN (Author)

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America
by Ron Powers (Author)

Better Days - A Mental Health Recovery Workbook
by Craig Lewis (Author)

Varcarolis' Foundations of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing: A Clinical Approach
by Margaret Jordan Halter PhD APRN (Author)

Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection
by Leslie Korn PhD (Author), James Lake MD (Foreword)

Foundations of Mental Health Care
by Michelle Morrison-Valfre RN BSN MHS FNP (Author)

Mental Health in Social Work: A Casebook on Diagnosis and Strengths Based Assessment (DSM 5 Update) (2nd Edition) (Advancing Core Competencies)
by Jacqueline Corcoran (Author), Joseph M. Walsh (Author)

Mental Health: Personalities: Personality Disorders, Mental Disorders & Psychotic Disorders
by Carol Franklin (Author)

Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Success: A Q&A Review Applying Critical Thinking to Test Taking (Davis's Q&a Success)
by Cathy Melfi Curtis MSN RN-BC (Author), Audra Baker RN PMHNP APRN ANCC (Author)

Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing: Concepts of Care in Evidence-Based Practice
by Mary C. Townsend DSN PMHCNS-BC (Author), Karyn I. Morgan RN MSN APRN CNS (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Dying Well
Is there a way to talk about death candidly, without fear ... and even with humor? How can we best prepare for it with those we love? This hour, TED speakers explore the beauty of life ... and death. Guests include lawyer Jason Rosenthal, humorist Emily Levine, banker and travel blogger Michelle Knox, mortician Caitlin Doughty, and entrepreneur Lux Narayan.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#492 Flint Water Crisis
This week we dig into the Flint water crisis: what happened, how it got so bad, what turned the tide, what's still left to do, and the mix of science, politics, and activism that are still needed to finish pulling Flint out of the crisis. We spend the hour with Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a physician, scientist, activist, the founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, and author of the book "What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City".