Health and Religion

A December 23 Gallup piece shows that very religious Americans lead healthier lifestyles than those who report themselves to be moderately religious or nonreligious.

Americans who were classified as very religious received a score of 66.3 on Gallup's Healthy Behavior Index. The other two categories, moderately religious and nonreligious, scored 60.6 and 58.3 respectively. The numbers are based on over half a million interviews.

Very religious Americans exhibited the healthiest lifestyles demonstrated by many of the indicators that factored into the index. For example, the group has the lowest rates of smoking at 14.9%, the highest percentage of regular exercisers at 53.3%, and the highest percentage of healthy eaters. Compare this with the 27.6% nonreligious Americans who smoke. 47.9% of individuals in this same group were regular exercisers. Nonreligious Americans also have the lowest proportion of healthy eaters.

It is possible that a more committed practice of religion contributes to a healthier lifestyle. For example, some religious groups adhere strictly to vegetarian diets, while others frown upon or even avoid alcohol entirely. On the other hand, it could be that the healthiest individuals may be in a place that allows them to be more committed followers of a religion. For example, those who are already healthier might have the resources to attend religious services weekly. However, the Gallup piece concludes by saying that the most intuitive explanation for the strong association between religiosity and health is this: "Those who capitalize on the social and moral outcomes of religious norms and acts are more likely to lead lives filled with healthier choices."

Gallup has explored religiosity and health in past pieces, including the association between religion and overall wellbeing, and religion and emotional health.
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