Religion and preventive health care use in older adults
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Despite the many benefits of preventive services, they are often underutilized, particularly by specific subgroups such as the poor, uninsured, and racial and ethnic minorities. Social factors can figure prominently in these discrepancies by either creating barriers or facilitating use. Because religious beliefs and activities can affect individual lifestyles, worldviews, and motivations, it is possible that religion has an effect on behaviors involving health promotion and disease prevention. However, few studies have directly addressed this relationship. Using data from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), the current study examines the relationship between religious attendance, salience, and denomination and six different types of preventive services among adults aged 51-61 in the United States. The results indicate that individuals who attend religious services more frequently use more preventive services. For example, persons who attend once a week exhibit 1.49 v times the odds of having a cholesterol screening in the past two years compared to persons who never attend services. Denominational differences also exist. In general, Mainline Protestants use more services than Evangelical Protestants, while Catholics, non-affiliated individuals, and members of ‘Other” religions are more likely to use fewer services. Using data from the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS), the role of attitudes toward health care as a possible mediator for this relationship is examined. Findings suggest that various aspects of religion are significantly associated with three sets of attitudes: personal trust in one’s physician, public confidence in physicians, and attitudes toward the health care system in general. Individuals with higher levels of religious service attendance are generally associated with greater trust and more positive attitudes. Similarly, membership in a Mainline Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish denomination is also associated with higher trust and more positive attitudes compared to Evangelical Protestants. Finally, strength of affiliation is also positively associated with trust in one’s physician. This study adds important information to the public health literature concerning factors that influence preventive service use. Furthermore, the findings add to the growing literature on religion and health by illuminating a possible mechanism that may help to explain the association between religion and physical health outcomes.