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Religious women in the US are more likely to use health screening

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7534.138 (Published 19 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:138
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    Women in the United States who attend religious services are more likely to have used health screening examinations than those who do not, but patterns differ substantially between different religions. Women who are evangelical Protestant Christians are less likely to use preventive health screening services than their Jewish or mainstream Christian counterparts, a study published online on 6 January 2006 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine has shown (http://www.springerlink.com/, doi: 10.1007/s10865-005-9035-2).

    Jewish women, for example, were four times more likely to report having had cervical screening than evangelical protestant Christians, while mainstream protestant Christians were more likely than evangelical Protestants to report having had a mammogram.

    “Religion has been a particularly neglected social factor in health research, and findings such as those shown here may compel healthcare workers and health researchers to pay more attention to religious involvement as a potentially significant correlate of health care utilisation,” says the study.

    The study looked at data from the health and retirement survey, a nationally representative survey of non-institutionalised older adults in the United States, and included information on 4353 women. Data looked at included religion and attendance and the use of mammograms, cervical smears, and self examination of the breasts. The women were also asked how important religion was in their lives.

    One of the strongest findings was that mainstream protestant Christians were more likely to report mammograms and cervical smears than were evangelical Protestants.

    Results also showed that all types of religious attendance strongly predicted the use of mammograms compared to non-attenders. Women attending a religious service once a week were twice as likely to report having had a mammogram compared with those who never attended religious services.

    For cervical smears, the results showed that compared with women who do not attend religious services, those who attended at least two to three times a month were significantly more likely to report having had this type of preventive service.

    “This effect is especially pronounced for Jewish women, who are 4.09 times more likely to report this preventive service compared [with] evangelical Protestant women,” says author Maureen Benjamins of the Urban Health Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, Chicago.

    For self examination of the breasts, the results showed that attending religious services one or two times a year or two to three times a month was associated with a greater likelihood of reporting self examination compared with women who never attended (odds ratios 1.23, P<0.05 v 1.53, P<0.001). Women who reported religion as an important factor in their lives were also more likely to report having self examined their breasts.

    “All these relationships remained significant, even after taking into account age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical and mental health, and other factors,” says Dr Benjamins. “These findings add important information to the public health literature concerning factors that influence preventive service use. They also add to the growing field of religion and health research where preventive healthcare use is emerging as a possible mechanism linking religion to a wide variety of physical health outcomes,” says the report.

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