Spirituality as a protective health asset for young people: an international comparative analysis from three countries



Spirituality has been proposed as a potential health asset a ‘developmental engine’ that works by fostering the search for connectedness, meaning and purpose. The aim is to examine to what extent spiritual health might be protective of young people’s overall health and well-being.


In 2014, young people aged 11, 13, and 15 years in England, Scotland and Canada were surveyed as part of the HBSC study (n = 26,701). The perceived importance of spiritual health and domains (connections with self, others, nature, and the transcendent) was measured in these countries. Multi-level log-binomial models were used to explore relationships between spiritual health and three self-reported positive health outcomes: general health status, subjective life satisfaction and health complaints.


Higher levels of perceptions of the importance of spiritual health, both overall and within the four domains, were associated with higher likelihoods of reporting each of the positive health outcomes.


Spiritual health appears to operate as a protective health asset during adolescence and is significantly shaped by external relationships and connections.

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The three countries involved in this analysis were funded by (1) The Department of Health, England. (2) The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute of Health Research (operating Grant MOP341188). (3) NHS Health Scotland.

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Correspondence to Fiona Brooks.

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Ethics approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments. All questionnaires were anonymous. Approval was gained from the following ethics review boards: Queen′s University (Canada), the University of Hertfordshire (England), and St Andrews University (Scotland). Student participation was voluntary, and consent (explicit or implicit) was sought from school administrators, parents, and participating students as per national human subject requirements.

Additional information

For the HBSC Child Spiritual Health Writing Group which consists of investigators from the HBSC study in the following countries, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Israel, Poland, Lativa and Scotland.

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Brooks, F., Michaelson, V., King, N. et al. Spirituality as a protective health asset for young people: an international comparative analysis from three countries. Int J Public Health 63, 387–395 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00038-017-1070-6

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  • Adolescent
  • Young people
  • Gender
  • Nature
  • Spiritual health
  • Spirituality