Religious high school seniors are less likely to drink and drive and engage in other unhealthy activities and more likely to eat right and practice other healthy behaviors, according to a national survey.
"Religious institutions are a potentially important, albeit often ignored, ally in the nation's efforts to promote the health of the youth of today and the adults of tomorrow," say John M. Wallace, Jr., PhD, and Tyrone A. Forman, MA, of the University of Michigan.
Writing in a special issue of Health Education & Behavior, Wallace and Forman report their analysis of survey responses by a nationally representative sample of 5,000 high school seniors asked about their religious participation and beliefs and behaviors that could improve or harm their health.
At least one-third of the sample said they attended religious services once a week and that religion was very important to them. Wallace and Forman found that these highly religious high school seniors were less likely to drink and drive, carry a weapon, use tobacco or marijuana, or get into fights. They were also more likely to wear seat belts, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get adequate sleep.
The findings suggest "that religion does not only simply constrain behavior, but it also encourages or promotes adolescents' involvement in behavior that can protect or enhance their health," Wallace and Forman write.
The results held true even after the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, including race, gender, family structure, parents' education, region of residence and whether they lived in an urban area.
The researchers also found that many of these trends held true over time. From the mid-1970s until today, highly religious seniors generally have been more likely than other seniors to use seat belts, have been less likely to use marijuana, and have been more likely to eat properly.
Wallace and Forman note, "Perhaps the proverb is correct when it says, 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.'"
Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For additional information about SOPHE, contact Elaine Auld at (202) 408-9804.