, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 14-21

Claims about religious involvement and health outcomes

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Claims about religion, spirituality, and health have recently appeared with increasing frequency, in both the popular media and professional journals. These claims have asserted that there are a great many studies in the literature that have examined relations between religious involvement and health outcomes and that the majority of them have shown that religious people are healthier. We examined the validity of these claims in two ways: (a) To determine the percentage of articles in the literature that were potentially relevant to such a claim, we identified all English-language articles with published abstracts identified by a Medline search using the search term religion in the year 2000, and (b) to examine the quality of the data in articles cited as providing support for such a claim, we examined all articles in the area of cardiovascular disease and hypertension cited by two comprehensive reviews of the literature.

Of the 266 articles published in the year 2000 and identified by the Medline search, only 17% were relevant to claims of health benefits associated with religious involvement. About half of the articles cited in the comprehensive reviews were irrelevant to these claims. Of those that actually were relevant, many either had significant methodological flaws or were misrepresented, leaving only a few articles that could truly be described as demonstrating beneficial effects of religious involvement. We conclude that there is little empirical basis for assertions that religious involvement or activity is associated with beneficial health outcomes.