By the editors, The Telegraph Newspaper, London, 24 Sep 2010. Losing your faith is bad for your health, a new study suggests.
Leaving a strict religion makes people more likely to live unhealthily, with an increase in drinking and smoking, as well as becoming more susceptible to negativity and stress.
It can also lead to losing friends and acquaintances who remain devout, said Christopher Scheitle, of Penn State university.
He said: “Strict groups typically require members to abstain from unhealthy behaviours, such as alcohol and tobacco use.
“These groups also create both formal and informal support structures to promote positive health.
“The social bonds of belonging to the group might be another factor for better health.”
The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, defines strict religions, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as those with strict social, moral and physical guidelines for members.
Mr Scheitle examined a total of 423 cases of people associated with religions from 1972 to 2006 and compared the self-reported health of 96 people who switched to another religion and 54 people who left religion altogether with those who stayed.
It found about 40 per cent of members of strict religious groups reported they were in excellent health but only 25 percent of members in those groups who switched to another religion reported they were in excellent health.
Findings also showed that people who were raised and remained in strict religious groups were more likely to report they were in better health than people in other religions.
Mr Scheitle said positive thinking and the stress of leaving strict groups were other possible factors.
He said: “You could lose your friends or your family becomes upset when you leave, leading to psychological stress and negative health outcomes.”
But he said the study did not necessarily mean that leaving a religion caused poor health because in some cases poor health could prompt a person to leave, given the demands placed on them.
A belief that an “all-powerful being who failed to heal their condition” also left them feeling despondent, he adds…