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'Doing God' is good for your health

Published: 21st April 2011

Practising Christian faith is good for your health. That's the verdict of a new report which shows that the faithful live longer and remain healthier. At a time when the health service is facing financial cuts and government is seeking ways to enhance happiness, the report shows that politicians who say 'We don't do God' should think again!

The report, published by the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), issues a challenge to those who want to stop Christian medics and health professionals from talking to patients about faith. 'Patients do not simply present biological problems to be solved. Rather, effective medical interventions should address all the dimensions of our humanity. It is clear that most patients value and seek this form of holistic care,' the report says.

Drawing on evidence from over 1,200 studies and 400 reviews, the report titled 'Health Benefits of Christian Faith' by Dr Alex Bunn and Dr David Randall, points out that the overwhelming majority of scientific studies highlight the positive health benefits of faith, including protection from illness, coping with illness, and faster recovery from it.

Christian faith is shown to increase life expectancy: in one study of 21,204 adults, those who attended church regularly had a life expectancy up to 14 years longer than those who did not.

    Other benefits of faith include:
  • increased well-being, happiness and life satisfaction
  • hope and optimism;
  • purpose and meaning in life
  • higher self-esteem
  • better adaptation to bereavement
  • less loneliness
  • lower rates of depression
  • lower rates of suicide
  • less anxiety
  • lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse
  • less delinquency and criminal activity
  • greater marital stability and satisfaction

Quoting Andrew Sims, a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Bunn and Randall lament the lack of attention given to the strong evidence: 'for anything other than religion and spirituality, governments and health providers would be doing their utmost to promote it'.

So should doctors prescribe faith?

CMF emphasises that Christians want to follow the example of Jesus, who was strikingly gentle and caring in his interactions with suffering human beings. The report stresses, 'The founders of the church advised that Christians should respond to spiritual enquiries "with gentleness and respect". The General Medical Council came to the same conclusion 2,000 years later.'

But doctors do also need to consider their patients' spiritual care in diagnosis and treatment, the report says.

'The people we most need to listen to are patients, who typically are more religious than their carers. In one survey, patients and families stated that faith was the second most important factor in their decisions about cancer treatment, whereas the oncologists treating them imagined it would be last on the list. Even if we consider those patients who are not involved in organised religion, 76% admit to spiritual experiences and beliefs.

'Modern doctors need to become more patient centred by supporting spiritual care, as secular training has tended to exclude some of patients' deepest concerns. At a time of illness spiritual issues often rise to the surface - questions of worth, mortality, and place in the world. The sensitive doctor will explore these by taking a spiritual history and considering how a patient's existing spiritual views may impact on their current illness and hopes for recovery.'

Bunn and Randall conclude: 'In contrast to the popular myth that Christian faith is bad for health, on balance, and despite its limitations, the published research suggests that faith is associated with longer life and a wide range of health benefits. In particular faith is associated with improved mental health. At the very least, the burden of proof is on those who claim that faith is bad for health and that all forms of spiritual care should be excluded from modern medicine.'

Notes to Editors

Source: 'Health Benefits of Christian Faith' CMF files no: 44. Easter 2011

The report is one of a series of CMF files emerging from the discussions of CMF's medical study group highlighting issues at the interface of medicine and the Christian faith. The authors, both doctors, are Alex Bunn who trained in infectious diseases, and now works as a GP and for CMF with medical students, and David Randall, a senior house officer in general medicine currently working in Queen's Hospital, Romford.

For further information:

Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

Christian Medical Fellowship:
uniting & equipping Christian doctors & nurses
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