Attendance at Church Linked to Longer Life: Most Believers Say Gambling Is OK

Article excerpt

Health enthusiasts may be tempted to put away their running shoes and granola and search for the family Bible.

A new study in Demography magazine suggests that if you go to church, you may live up to 14 years longer. The research follows a growing consensus that religious belief and church attendance are key indicators of health, social behavior, political leanings, lifestyles and morality.

"There is still a sense in much of the scientific community that religious effects are minor at best or are even irrelevant," says a group of researchers on health and population issues. "Our findings help to dispel such a notion."

Another survey, however, raises questions about what these growing congregations may be absorbing from the pulpits. This poll found that three in four churchgoers regard casino gambling as harmless adult fun.

Churchgoers "are pretty much like the rest of America when it comes to attitudes and actions about gaming," said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association, which commissioned the poll.

For a half-century, Americans have reported that about four in 10 attend a house of worship weekly and 70 percent have claimed religious affiliation. This makes religion as important as sex, income, race, age, education and region in understanding how Americans act.

Yet given the secular tone of research, the religion factor often was not delved into, says one of the authors of the Demography article, Robert Hummer of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas.

The nation's two largest surveys - the U.S. Census and the semiannual Current Population Survey - do not ask about religion.

Mr. Hummer's team studied 21,000 adult Americans over nine years, looking at their religious behavior, along with other factors.

Even taking into account all other factors, "those who never attend [church] exhibit 50 percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently," the study found.

"Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a 20 percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week."

Also, some causes of death appeared more frequently among non-attenders. "Those who never attend are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes or infectious diseases," the researchers said. …