September 13, 2018
Boston, MA – Participating in spiritual practices during childhood and adolescence may be a protective factor for a range of health and well-being outcomes in early adulthood, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers found that people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s—and were less likely to subsequently have depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection—than people raised with less regular spiritual habits.
“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices,” said first author Ying Chen, who recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Chan School. “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.”
The study will be published online September 13, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Previous studies have linked adults’ religious involvement to better health and well-being outcomes, including lower risk of premature death.
For this study, Chen and senior author Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, analyzed health data from mothers in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). The sample included more than 5,000 youth who were followed for between 8–14 years. The researchers controlled for many variables such as maternal health, socioeconomic status, and history of substance abuse or depressive symptoms, to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing.