ImportanceReligiosity has been associated with positive health outcomes. Hypothesized pathways for this association include religious practices, such as church attendance, that result in reduced stress.
ObjectiveThe objective of this study was to examine the relationship between religiosity (church attendance), allostatic load (AL) (a physiologic measure of stress) and all-cause mortality in middle-aged adults.
Design, setting and participantsData for this study are from NHANES III (1988-1994). The analytic sample (n = 5449) was restricted to adult participants, who were between 40-65 years of age at the time of interview, had values for at least 9 out of 10 clinical/biologic markers used to derive AL, and had complete information on church attendance.
Main outcomes and measuresThe primary outcomes were AL and mortality. AL was derived from values for metabolic, cardiovascular, and nutritional/inflammatory clinical/biologic markers. Mortality was derived from a probabilistic algorithm matching the NHANES III Linked Mortality File to the National Death Index through December 31, 2006, providing up to 18 years follow-up. The primary predictor variable was baseline report of church attendance over the past 12 months. Cox proportional hazard logistic regression models contained key covariates including socioeconomic status, self-rated health, co-morbid medical conditions, social support, healthy eating, physical activity, and alcohol intake.
ResultsChurchgoers (at least once a year) comprised 64.0% of the study cohort (n = 3782). Non-churchgoers had significantly higher overall mean AL scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for 3 of the 10 markers of AL than did churchgoers. In bivariate analyses non-churchgoers, compared to churchgoers, had higher odds of an AL score 2-3 (OR 1.24; 95% CI 1.01, 1.50) or ≥4 (OR 1.38; 95% CI 1.11, 1.71) compared to AL score of 0-1. More frequent churchgoers (more than once a week) had a 55% reduction of all-cause mortality risk compared with non-churchgoers. (HR 0.45, CI 0.24-0.85) in the fully adjusted model that included AL.
Conclusions and relevanceWe found a significant association between church attendance and mortality among middle-aged adults after full adjustments. AL, a measure of stress, only partially explained differences in mortality between church and non-church attendees. These findings suggest a potential independent effect of church attendance on mortality.