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Original Investigation
June 2016

Association of Religious Service Attendance With Mortality Among Women

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 5Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):777-785. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1615
Abstract

Importance  Studies on the association between attendance at religious services and mortality often have been limited by inadequate methods for reverse causation, inability to assess effects over time, and limited information on mediators and cause-specific mortality.

Objective  To evaluate associations between attendance at religious services and subsequent mortality in women.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Attendance at religious services was assessed from the first questionnaire in 1992 through June 2012, by a self-reported question asked of 74 534 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at baseline. Data analysis was conducted from return of the 1996 questionnaire through June 2012.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Cox proportional hazards regression model and marginal structural models with time-varying covariates were used to examine the association of attendance at religious services with all-cause and cause-specific mortality. We adjusted for a wide range of demographic covariates, lifestyle factors, and medical history measured repeatedly during the follow-up, and performed sensitivity analyses to examine the influence of potential unmeasured and residual confounding.

Results  Among the 74 534 women participants, there were 13 537 deaths, including 2721 owing to cardiovascular deaths and 4479 owing to cancer deaths. After multivariable adjustment for major lifestyle factors, risk factors, and attendance at religious services in 1992, attending a religious service more than once per week was associated with 33% lower all-cause mortality compared with women who had never attended religious services (hazard ratio, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.62-0.71; P < .001 for trend). Comparing women who attended religious services more than once per week with those who never attend, the hazard ratio for cardiovascular mortality was 0.73 (95% CI, 0.62-0.85; P < .001 for trend) and for cancer mortality was 0.79 (95% CI, 0.70-0.89; P < .001 for trend). Results were robust in sensitivity analysis. Depressive symptoms, smoking, social support, and optimism were potentially important mediators, although the overall proportion of the association between attendance at religious services and mortality was moderate (eg, social support explained 23% of the effect [P = .003], depressive symptoms explained 11% [P < .001], smoking explained 22% [P < .001], and optimism explained 9% [P < .001]).

Conclusions and Relevance  Frequent attendance at religious services was associated with significantly lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality among women. Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate.

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