Bible Belt Americans Turn to Faith Before Doctors

People in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston are more likely than those in other major cities to say that having a strong faith in a divine being is most important to their personal well-being.

More specifically, more Houstonians cited religious organizations and leaders as their source of help when it comes to health issues than any other region in the nation. According to a new survey sponsored by Cigna HealthCare, 43 percent of Houstonians rely on religious organizations while only 21 percent rely on doctors. It was the largest gap of any of the nine major cities surveyed, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"Medical information has become so hard to interpret you almost do need divine guidance," said Dr. Clifford Dacso, an internist at The Methodist Hospital and director of its Abramson Center for the Future of Health, told the local newspaper. "Plus, at least you know where your pastor is once a week."

While other Bible Belt cities show high trust in a religious organization, the gap between that and doctors wasn't as large as revealed in Houston.

Meanwhile, in other cities, more people cited doctors than faith.

In Los Angeles, 37 percent of survey respondents cited doctors and only 17 percent named religious organizations or leaders as their source of support. In Washington, D.C., respondents listed physical wellness as the most important factor to their sense of well-being, followed by strong faith and harmonious family relations.

Overall, Americans are more likely to turn to their family for help. According to the survey, 39 percent of Americans say they rely on family members, 25 percent on doctors, 23 percent on friends and 21 percent on religious organizations.

"Clearly, the Bible Belt is a factor," Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist of religion and director of its Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life, told the Chronicle. "Also, the immigration process tends to make immigrants identify more with their religion. And, lastly, health information increasingly is part of some churches' outreaches."

MegaHealth Efforts

Not far from Houston, Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas has promoted health information and has been hosting an annual celebration called Megafest in Atlanta, the other Bible Belt city, where tens of thousands of youth are offered free health and wellness testing. Although the influential megachurch pastor this year will not be hosting the large-scale family revival, which has largely drawn African-American audiences, Megafest will return to Atlanta for its fourth year in 2008.

Last summer, 20 black churches in Houston presented "mini-sermons" on health issues such as eliminating stroke, heart disease and premature death, according to the Chronicle.

Reports have indicated higher death rates from heart disease among African Americans than Caucasians, according to the American Heart Association, as well as a high incidence of high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. Also, HIV infection is the leading cause of death for black women aged 25-34 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Jakes launched last year a comprehensive campaign at the national and international levels called "It's Time to Step Up" to advocate HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention, testing and optimal treatment. The campaign is also a call to action to the faith community. Last December, Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., offered free HIV/AIDS testing at their second annual Global AIDS Summit and encourages testing in other churches as well.

In Houston, Lakewood Church – the largest church in the nation – has not conducted health outreaches but Donald Iloff, spokesman for Lakewood Pastor Joel Osteen, said there's been talk about the possibility recently, according to the Chronicle.

The Health and Well-being in America survey involved interviews with 1,000 adults 18 years and older in February 2007.