Church attendance, allostatic load and mortality in middle aged adults

PLoS One. 2017 May 16;12(5):e0177618. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177618. eCollection 2017.


Importance: Religiosity has been associated with positive health outcomes. Hypothesized pathways for this association include religious practices, such as church attendance, that result in reduced stress.

Objective: The 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 participants: Data 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 measures: The 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.

Results: Churchgoers (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 relevance: We 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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Algorithms
  • Allostasis*
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Religion*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States