According to a study from T. Chan School of Public Health of Harvard University, children who participate in religious services tend to have better mental and physical health in early adulthood. The study also revealed that those who were engaged in spiritual practices or activities were much less likely to be involved with substance abuse and experience mental health issues.
The study entitled “Associations of Religious Upbringing With Subsequent Health and Well-Being From Adolescence to Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis” was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers Ying Chen and Tyler VanderWeele analyzed data from mothers in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS).
People who attended weekly religious services during their childhood and adolescence were about 18% more likely to report higher happiness when they become young adults.
Over 5,000 youth aged 8-14 years were followed for this study. To separate the impact of religious upbringing, researchers controlled several factors including maternal health, socioeconomic status, and symptoms of depression or a history of substance abuse.
Researchers likewise found that compared to people who didn’t have spiritual habits, those who took part in religious services every week, and practiced meditation daily in their youth, experienced greater satisfaction in life and positivity in their 20’s. They were also less likely to smoke, use illegal drugs, or deal with a sexually transmitted disease.
Specifically, results of the study revealed that people who attended weekly religious services during their childhood and adolescence were about 18% more likely to report higher happiness when they become young adults. Also, they were 29% more likely to volunteer in their area and 33% less likely to use illegal drugs.
“Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.” Ying Chen, Researcher
Compared to people who never prayed or meditated, people who engaged in prayer or meditation at least once a day during their childhood and adolescence were 16% more likely to report higher happiness when they reached early adulthood. On the other hand, they were 40% less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease.
“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices,” said Chen. “Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
“While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking. In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness,” said VanderWeele.