142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition

Annual Meeting Recordings are now available for purchase

What 100+ Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews Reveal about the Effects of Religion/Spirituality on Health: Implications for Causality

142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition (November 15 - November 19, 2014): http://www.apha.org/events-and-meetings/annual
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 : 8:50 AM - 9:08 AM

Doug Oman, PhD , School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
More than 3000 empirical studies have examined relations between religion, spirituality, and a variety of health outcomes. Religion and spirituality (R/S) have been theorized to causally influence health through mechanisms including social connections, health behaviors, mental health, and religious methods of coping. Yet many social scientists and health professionals remain unaware or skeptical of this literature. I report preliminary findings from a systematic review more than 100 peer-reviewed meta-analyses and other systematic reviews (SRs) of R/S and health-related variables. Topics were classed as substantive and closely health-focused (n=78), secondarily health-focused (n=16), or methodological (n=35). Closely health-focused reviews appeared in 65 distinct journals from 239 collective authors, each reviewing a median of about 25 studies. Updating Levin (1994), we evaluate relevance to applying Hill’s (1965) nine perspectives for establishing causality, finding that many are now supported by one or more SRs. Implications are discussed for public health and related fields.


Hill, A. B. (1965). The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation? Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 58, 1217-1219.

Levin, J. S. (1994). Religion and health: is there an association, is it valid, and is it causal? Social Science and Medicine, 38(11), 1475-1482. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(94)90109-0


Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the base of empirical evidence that has examined relations between religion/spirituality and health. Evaluate some of the implications for causality from empirical findings to date.

Keyword(s): Religion, Faith Community

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: The main focus my research since 1998 has been on how religious/spiritual factors are related to mental and physical health and related outcomes. I have had multiple externally funded grants and have published dozens of refereed papers on these topics, including an epidemiologic study of religion/longevity that was published in the American Journal of Public Health, and many others. My methodological qualifications include training in biostatistics, culminating in a biostatistics doctorate.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.