Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Losing your religion may be bad for your health

Losing your religion may be bad for your health People report feeling the worse for wear after losing faith

People who leave strict religious groups are more likely to report feeling worse compared with those who stay faithful, a new study has found.

Past studies have suggested that belonging to a religious group may be linked to better health. So researchers at Penn State University, US decided to investigate further.

"We became interested in what would happen to your health if you left a religious group. Would people demonstrate any negative health outcomes? " said researcher Christopher Scheitle who led the study.

The researchers looked at a total 423 people belonging to strict religious groups between 1972 and 2006. Of these, 96 switched to another religion and 54 gave up religion completely.

Strict religions were defined as ones which had strict social, moral and physical guidelines for members, such as Jehovah's Witness and The Church of Latter-day Saints.

The findings showed that about 40 per cent of people in strict religious groups reported they were in excellent health, but only 25 percent of people in groups who switched to another religion reported they were in excellent health.

The study also suggested that people who were raised and remained in strict religious groups were more likely to report they were in better health than people affiliated with other religious groups.

Strict religious groups generally required members to abstain from unhealthy behaviours, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, the researchers said.

This may help explain why people in religious group reported feeling healthier.

Religious beliefs may also promote better health by providing hope and encouraging positive thinking, and the groups also create support structures which may promote positive health, according to the researchers.

'The social solidarity and social support could have psychological benefits," Scheitle said. "That could then lead to certain health benefits."

Leaving a religious group may increase stress as well as losing these health benefits.

"You could lose your friends or your family becomes upset when you leave, leading to psychological stress and negative health outcomes," said Scheitle.

However, he also said the study does not necessarily mean that leaving a group causes poor health as poor health could prompt someone to leave.

Someone in poor health may question a religion which promotes the belief in an all-powerful being who has failed to heal his or her condition.

This article was published on Fri 24 September 2010



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