Religion promotes well-being, epidemiologist says

Waco—Religion enhances physical and mental health and contributes significantly to overall well-being over the long haul, an epidemiologist told participants at a conference sponsored by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

“Religion exhibits a positive influence on human well-being across religious and demographic categories and has done so consistently and undiminished for decades,” said Jeff Levin, university professor of epidemiology and population health and professor of medical humanities at Baylor.

False presumptions

Levin took issue with “false presumptions” held by some mental health professionals who believe religion has little or no impact on well-being—or who see its effects as harmful.

“Religious participation is a strong statistically significant determinant of overall mental health, positive well-being and healthy psychological functioning,” he said.

For example, analysis of more than 450 published studies over 50-plus years regarding depression showed religious participation yielded positive and statistically significant results about 70 percent of the time.

Similarly, 278 published studies concerning self-destructive behavior showed religion produced positive effects 86 percent of the time.

Cuts across demographic lines

Results cut across all barriers of geography, gender, age and socio-economic status, and it is true across all religions, Levin observed. Jews exhibit the lowest rate of alcohol abuse, Muslims the lowest rate of drug abuse and conservative Protestants the lowest rate of suicide, he noted.

Studies in which subjects rate their own health similarly demonstrate religion significantly contributes to healthy psychological functioning, Levin said.

“Almost all reviews finds the weight of evidence is positive and statistically significant,” he said. “For people of faith, religion can serve as a vital resource for coping with life’s challenges through enhanced well-being.”