The Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a new study that found that kids and teens who are raised religiously or spiritually, tend to have better physical and mental health as they age.
The study was published last week in the American Journal of Epidemiology and finds that people who pray or meditate on their own time were at lower risk of substance abuse and depression later on in life.
The researchers looked at data from sample sizes ranging from 5,681 people to 7,458 people. Their participants were from the Nurses’ Health Study II and its next-generation Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) and were observed over the course of some 14 years.
According to the study’s abstract the group was interested in “the associations of religious involvement in adolescence (including religious service attendance and prayer or meditation) with a wide array of psychological well-being, mental health, health behavior, physical health, and character strength outcomes in young adulthood.”
The researchers were able to draw the conclusion from their data that children who attended religious services at least once a week were about 18% more likely to report being happier in their 20s than those who did not attend services. The same children were also around 30% more likely to do volunteer work and 33% less likely to use drugs during young adulthood as well.
The team not only looked at the participant’s attendance at religious services, but they also measured how much they prayed or meditated in their own time. Researchers found that those who prayed or meditated every day in their own time, had more life satisfaction, were able to process emotions better, and were more forgiving than those who did not pray or meditate. Participants who fell under this category were also less likely to have sex at a young age or to have STIs.
“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices,” said study author Ying Chen. “Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
Previous studies have suggested similar connections suggesting that people who believe in a higher power are more resilient to stress or that meditation reduces symptoms of depression and increases attention and creativity.
Forbes Magazine reports that though the new study tried to control for demographic differences, most people in the study were white females of higher socioeconomic status. To see if and how demographics play into the results of the study, it would have to be repeated with a more diverse group.