Americans Increasingly Turn to Prayer for Health, Study Says

The number of people praying for their health jumped dramatically between 1999 and 2007, a study published by the American Psychological Association shows.

Health-related prayer increased by 36 percentage points, according to research printed in the May issue of the APA journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

Comparing data from national health surveys given by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1999, 2002 and 2007, researchers found that prayer in response to health concerns rose to 49 percent in 2007, up from 43 percent in 2002 and just 13 percent in 1999.

The study’s lead author, Amy Wachholtz, noted that unlike attendance of worship services, which surged in 2002 after the September 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, then returned to form, increase in prayer proved no flash in the pan. Prayer’s upward trend continued through 2007.

People who experienced sharp declines or sudden improvements in health reported praying more than those whose health remained stable. Researchers posited that individuals who went through acute changes in health use prayer to help come to terms with their shifting circumstances, referring to prayer as a “complementary treatment” for coping with both physical and mental conditions.

People on the high end of the income spectrum were 15 percent less likely to pray about health than those at the lower end. Still, Wachholtz noted, prayer about health issues is not a split between haves and have-nots.

“We’re seeing a wide variety of prayer use among people with good income and access to medical care,” Wachholtz said. “People are not exchanging health insurance for prayer.”

In fact, people whose educations continued beyond high school were more likely to pray about health concerns than others.

Those who prayed about their health were more likely to take steps to protect their physical well-being, from abstaining from smoking and drinking alcohol to regularly seeing their doctors.

Curiously, though, people who exercised regularly were 25 percent less likely to pray in response to health issues than others.

The study could not say what types of prayer people used in relation to their health, or how much people actively prayed separate from their health concerns.

Still, according to authors Wachholtz and Usha Sambamoorthi, health care providers should not only take note of increased use of health-related prayer but also try to understand how prayer can affect patients’ physical and mental well-being.

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