Religiosity and Health Behavior-What Does Research Tell Us?
Young, Michael, American Journal of Health Education
This article is based on the AAHPERD Research Consortium Scholar Lecture delivered at the 2010 AAHPERD National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Young's various projects are five-time winners of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Award for Outstanding Work in Community Health Promotion. His drug education program, Keep A Clear Mink authored with Chudley Werch, is a winner of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention's (CSAP) Exemplary Program Award. It has also been promoted as a Model Program by CSAP, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and is on the National Registry of Effective Programs. He has received a number of other awards from professional organizations and institutions.
Young M. Religiosity and health behavior--what does research tell us? Am J Health Educ. 2011;42(1):4-11. This paper was submitted to the Journal on July 31, 2010, revised and accepted for publication on September 16, 2010.
One of the nice things about giving a scholar lecture is you are able to talk about whatever you want. That is also what makes it difficult, because it requires a choice. You can talk about anything you choose, but because of time limitations you can't talk about everything you might want to choose.
My first instinct was to go with my favorite topic. Like several other people you probably know, my favorite topic is "me." I decided that while this topic would be quite fun for me, it might not be quite as enjoyable for you.
In other forums, I've had the opportunity to talk about research related to abstinence education, (1) to encourage increased research productivity (2) and to address the challenges in developing public school-university research partnerships. (3) For this talk, I did not want to simply recycle an earlier presentation, but rather to talk about another aspect of my work.
I thought about a conversation many years ago with a couple of faculty members regarding external funding. They said it was easy for me to get grant money because there was lots of funding available in my interest areas--drug education and abstinence/ sexuality education. There was little money available in their areas of interest. I told them that those were not my primary interest areas, but they were areas where I thought I could get funding and do some good work. When they asked what my real interest was, I told them that if I could study anything I wanted, and money was not an issue, I would be doing research in religiosity and health behavior--probably dealing more with sexual behavior than anything else.
At that time, no one seemed to be funding this type of research, but I still managed to make it a part, if not the focus, of a number of different studies. Today, funding agencies have a much greater interest in religiosity and health behavior. For example, NIH has a program announcement titled "The influence of religiosity and spirituality on health risk behaviors in children and adolescents." (4) One of the John Templeton Foundation's current priorities is funding projects that attempt to answer the question "How does spirituality promote health?" As a part of this overall question, the Foundation is interested in projects that address the role of religion and religious involvement, if any, in impacting health or impacting the aging process. (5)
The role of religion in health behavior has been an area of interest for me for some time. I have a number of publications that address some of the issues, and decided this lecture would be the perfect opportunity to talk about the area. Thus, the topic for this Scholar Lecture is "Religiosity and health behavior--what does the research tell us?" First, we will talk about some of the challenges involved in conducting research in this area. Next, we will take a look at what generally seems to be the case regarding the relationship between religiosity and health behavior. Finally, we'll get to the
really good part, that is, we will talk about some of my work.
CHALLENGES IN CONDUCTING RESEARCH RELATIVE TO RELIGIOSITY AND HEALTH BEHAVIOR
First, let's examine some of the challenges. One of the challenges is how to measure religiosity (i.e., strength of one's religious beliefs/commitment/convictions). Scores of instruments exist that attempt to measure some aspect of religiosity, yet researchers who have studied religiosity and health behavior have often used only a single measurement item, most often, religious affiliation or frequency of attendance at worship services. (6)
When I was developing my first study dealing with religiosity and health behavior, it was the late 1970s, and I was at Auburn University. Like some other researchers, I reasoned that mere affiliation with a religious group probably had little to do with actual commitment. If we compare Catholics to Protestants to Jews, or Baptists to Methodists to Episcopalians, all we really have is a label, or a nominal level measure. Nevertheless, many social scientists have placed religious denominations on a fundamentalist/conservative- liberal continuum, and then ascribed an ordinal level religiosity score to individuals indicating affiliation with a particular denomination (7)
While denominations may differ in their official position on different issues, it seems inappropriate to assume, for example, that all persons indicating affiliation with a particular religious denomination, support that denomination's official position on a given issue, and that the strength of that support is the same across all persons who claim that denominational affiliation. Thus, while religious or denominational affiliation may be of interest, and has been widely used by social scientists as a measure of religiosity, its use as the only measure of religiosity in a study of religion and health behavior leaves a bit lacking.
The second measure, again frequently used as a single item measure of religiosity, is frequency of attendance at religious or worship services. (6) Frequency of religious attendance is a legitimate measure of religiosity and is correlated with a number of health behaviors. If, however, we choose to measure strength of religious commitment solely by the frequency with which people attend worship services, aren't we still missing something?
I remember sharing my frustration about trying to find the best way to measure religiosity with one of my colleagues. He was one of our health educators, and Auburn's golf coach. He always dealt with issues in a very direct way, and in this instance he said "Hell, I don't understand why you have to come up with some fancy way to measure this. Just ask them how religious they are." As I delved more into the literature I found that coach's suggestion actually fit with what Glock and Stark (8) called the "experiential" or feeling aspect of religious commitment--do you feel or believe you are religious? These researchers, however, also indicated there were four other dimensions to religiosity- the ritualistic dimension (which included religious activities such frequency of worship attendance, but also other activities such as prayer and reading sacred scriptures or other religiously oriented material); the ideological dimension (a measure …
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Publication information: Article title: Religiosity and Health Behavior-What Does Research Tell Us?. Contributors: Young, Michael - Author. Journal title: American Journal of Health Education. Volume: 42. Issue: 1 Publication date: January-February 2011. Page number: 4+. © 2009 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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