Religiousness, Physical Activity and Obesity among Older Cancer Survivors: Results from the Health and Retirement Study 2000–2010

By Sophia Lyn Nathenson and Ming Wen.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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The health behaviors of cancer survivors are an important research agenda in light of mounting evidence that aspects of health such as diet and exercise have salutary effects both mentally and physically for cancer survivors, a rapidly growing population in the United States and elsewhere. This paper analyzes data from the Health and Retirement Study 2000–2010 to determine if religious salience impacts the likelihood of obesity, changes in body mass index, and weekly vigorous activity. Two theories propose different hypotheses about the relationship. The health belief model would suggest the more religious may have the perception that healthy behaviors are positive and will be more likely to have a healthy body weight and get exercise. Conversely, high religious salience may signify a God locus of health control, leading to lesser likelihood of engagement in preventive health behaviors. Using logistic and regression analysis controlling for health behaviors at baseline (2000), these theories are tested, in addition to the explanatory power of lifestyle as a potential mechanism in the relationship of religiousness to body weight. Results show that high levels of religious salience may correspond to greater likelihood of obesity and lesser likelihood of getting regular exercise. Policy implications may include a greater emphasis on diet and physical activity in religious settings that may instead stress other health behaviors such as abstinence from smoking and alcohol.

Keywords: Health Behavior, Cancer Survivorship, Obesity, Religion, Physical Activity, God Locus of Health Control, Health Belief Model, Medical Sociology

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, 2012, pp.129-144. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 289.458KB).

Sophia Lyn Nathenson

Graduate Instructor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA

Sophia Lyn Nathenson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Oregon Institute of Technology. She is currently developing a Medical Sociology program for future health professionals. Dr. Nathenson’s research focuses on the social and behavioral factors that contribute to well being, including the use of spirituality and alternative medicines for health.

Ming Wen

Department of Sociology, University of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA