Bioethics News

Comprehensive and thorough study of the relationship between attendance at religious services and reduction in mortality

The authors concluded consider that religiousness and spirituality are undervalued in relation to morbidity and mortality, so physicians should take this into account in their patients

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”.

Some religious groups say that within a holistic concept of the human person, the unity of body, mind and spirit can affect health, while others go even further by stating that religious practice can influence individual behaviour by modifying its development. However, with respect to mortality and morbidity, this does not appear to be scientifically demonstrated as yet.

Thus, in an article published in 2011 (Explore 7; 234-238, 2011) that analysed meta-analyses performed between 1994 and 2009, evaluating the possible relationship between attendance at religious services and mortality, the authors concluded that in the group who attended religious services, mortality was reduced by 18% compared to non-attendees.

However, some authors question the validity of these studies, arguing that the evidence is often weak due to the poor study methodology and design, so causality between religiousness and decreased mortality cannot be claimed.

In relation to this, last 16 May, a study was published (JAMA 176; 777-785, 2016) that looked at this topic in more depth, trying to avoid some of the shortcomings of previous studies, especially the fact of not having taken into account certain confounding factors.

Data from the study in question

In order to conduct the study, the authors used data from the “Nurses’ Health Study”, which included a large cohort of North American women who attended or did not attend religious services, carefully assessing the so-called confounding factors, such as diet, lifestyle, medical history and race, as well as carrying out long-term follow-up.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.