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The Association of Religion and Spirituality with Obesity and Weight Change in the USA: A Large-Scale Cohort Study

Abstract

The association between religion, spirituality, and body weight is controversial, given the methodological limitations of existing studies. Using the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort, follow-up occurred from 2001 to 2015, with up to 35,547 participants assessed for the religious or spiritual coping and religious service attendance analyses. Cox regression and generalized estimating equations evaluated associations with obesity and weight change, respectively. Religious or spiritual coping and religious service attendance had little evidence of an association with obesity. Compared with not using religious or spiritual coping at all, the fully adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) were minimally different across categories: a little bit (HR = 1.05, 95% CI: 0.92–1.18), a medium amount (HR = 1.09, 95% CI: 0.96–1.24), and a lot (HR = 1.10; 95% CI: 0.96–1.25) (Ptrend = 0.17). Compared with participants who never or almost never attend religious meetings or services, there was little evidence of an association between those attending less than once/month (HR = 1.08, 95% CI: 0.97–1.10), 1–3 times/month (HR = 1.01, 95% CI: 0.90–1.13), once/week (HR = 0.92, 95% CI: 0.83–1.02), and more than once/week (HR = 0.94, 95% CI: 0.82–1.07) (Ptrend = 0.06). Findings were similar for weight change. There was no significant association between religious or spiritual coping, religious service attendance, obesity, and weight change. While religion and spirituality are prominent in American society, they are not important psychosocial factors influencing body weight in this sample.

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The study protocol and procedures to obtain and access data from the Nurses’ Health Studies are described at https://www.nurseshealthstudy.org/researchers.

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Funding

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (U01 CA176726) and the John Templeton Foundation (Grant Number 48424).

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Contributions

NDS contributed to study concept and design, data extraction and statistical analysis, interpretation of data, drafting of manuscript, critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content, and approval of final manuscript for submission. ETW, MSF, TJV, YZ, FBH, and AES performed interpretation of data, critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content, and approval of final manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Nicholas D. Spence.

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The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Boston, USA), consistent with the Declaration of Helsinki.

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The Institutional Review Boards allowed participants’ completion of questionnaires to be considered as implied consent.

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Spence, N.D., Warner, E.T., Farvid, M.S. et al. The Association of Religion and Spirituality with Obesity and Weight Change in the USA: A Large-Scale Cohort Study. J Relig Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-021-01368-6

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Keywords

  • Obesity
  • Weight change
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • USA