According to a report published in Medical News Today, kids who are more spiritual or religious tend to be healthier.
That's the conclusion of Dr. Barry Nierenberg, Ph.D., ABPP, associate professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who has been studying the relationship between faith and health. He presented on the topic at the American Psychological Association's Division of Rehabilitation Psychology national conference on February 27, in Jackson, Fla.
"A number of studies have shown a positive relationship between participatory prayer and lower rates of heart disease, cirrhosis, emphysema and stroke in adults," he says. "Prayer has been shown to correlate to lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, rates of depression, as well as increased rates of self-described well being."
"But very few studies have attempted to examine how children's spiritual beliefs impact their health," he says. Initially, Nierenberg conducted a study of HIV positive pediatric patients (ages seven to 17), comparing religious development, church attendance and prayer to health measures such as symptoms, T-cell counts and number of hospitalizations.
"One significant finding was that children who attended church were more likely to have higher T-cell counts than non churchgoing children," he says, "but that finding is difficult to interpret. It's likely that the more ill a child is, the less ability they have to attend church."
"We needed a second study to more precisely examine religious faith and behavior," he says.
So they examined 16 children (ages six to 20) who were undergoing hemodialysis due to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The patients were questioned on a scale of spirituality behaviors and attitudes, and responses were correlated to dialysis-related blood levels, including: blood urea nitrogen (BUN), lymphocytes, albumin, phosphorus, parathyroid hormone (PTH), and urea reduction ratio.
"There was a significant negative correlation between spiritual attitudes and BUN levels," he says. "As children reported more agreement with statements like, 'I am sure that God cares about me,' and 'God has a plan for me," their average BUN levels over the past year were lower."
"We have a deeper understanding of why there is so little in the literature exploring the relationship between health spirituality in children and adolescents," he says. "It's challenging to measure in this population. It can be difficult getting all the necessary permission. The pool of children is limited, and the interviews can be time consuming. But it's important it's done for the same reason we study it in adults."