Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The religious hypochondriacs of Nairobi

The religious hypochondriacs of Nairobi

Posted: 22 Feb 2011 10:10 AM PST

In Nairobi slums, the more religious you are, the sicker you believe yourself to be!

In 2006, the African Population and Health Research Center began a 5-year study into the health of older people (50 years and up) living in two Nairobi ‘informal settlements’ (aka slums, as pictured). Among other things, they wanted to know how healthy the people living there felt.

So, one of  the questions they asked was simply this: “In general, how would you rate your health today?”

They found that non-Catholic Christians were the most likely to rate their health highly, and Muslims the least likely. The non-religious (only 5% of the sample) and Catholics were in the middle.

Across all religions, however, those who went to services the most often (more than once a week) were 28% less likely to say they were healthy. That’s not too surprising. Laura Schnall found a similar phenomenon in the USA. The obvious inference is that sick people go to church/mosque, perhaps in hope of a cure, or of social support.

But here’s the odd thing. They adjusted their data for a wide range of factors – marital status, age, education, tribal affiliation. Now religious service attendance was not important. Maybe people weren’t going to church because they felt sicker – maybe it was simply that other demographic factors were linked to both ill health and church/mosque going.

They also adjusted for social support, like the number of close friends, how much they participated in social activities, and whether they got support from relatives. All of these were important in explaining how healthy people felt, but none interacted with religion.

Then, last of all, they took into account how sick people actually were. Whether they currently had a severe illness, whether their activities were limited or if they had been to a doctor or other medical advisor recently, or whether they had ever been diagnosed with a range of common chronic illnesses.

After adjusting for real illness, it turned out that regular church/mosque goers say that they are sicker. Think about what that means.

It means that for the same level of real health, for the same level of social support, the same level of education, wealth, etc, people who go to church more often are less likely to feel well.

That’s not what’s supposed to happen at all!

ResearchBlogging.orgKodzi, I., Obeng Gyimah, S., Emina, J., & Chika Ezeh, A. (2010). Religious Involvement, Social Engagement, and Subjective Health Status of Older Residents of Informal Neighborhoods of Nairobi Journal of Urban Health DOI: 10.1007/s11524-010-9482-0

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Related articles:

1.       The emotional problems of the slightly religious

2.      Religion and suicide – a patchy global picture

3.      Do secular see religious Jews as more trustworthy?

That explains it: 2/19/2011 Atheist Cartoon

Posted: 22 Feb 2011 10:02 AM PST

Census Campaign – involvement of groups and supporters in local areas

Posted: 22 Feb 2011 08:42 AM PST

In the UK? Download your free posters today!

The next stages of the BHA’s Census Campaign are well under way, with activity leaving the office (and the internet!) and with people getting on and doing things in their local areas. We had so many requests from local groups for leaflets, that we printed over 60,000 of them, and we’re helping others design and print their own.

Groups and supporters of the campaign are being creative and organising their own advertising, whether that’s on buses, sides of bins, billboards, banners and lots more.

We’re also delighted that our campaign has already been getting media attention, such as with a top-rated item on the BBC News website, and being the main feature on local radio programmes. We’re expecting a lot more as the final stage of our campaign is launched, with advertising, in March.


The BHA’s Naomi Phillips and Bob Churchill have already been busy visiting local groups around the country, giving talks on the background to the Census Campaign, where the campaign is at now, and why it is so important for any one who is not religious to say so on the form by ticking ‘No Religion’ on March 27th.

You don’t have to be affiliated to the BHA to request a talk – we are really pleased to come to groups such as Skeptics in the Pub or other meetings where local people get together and want to take action! Please get in touch with Lizzie, Census Campaign co-ordinator, if you would like more information.

More ways to get involved and support the Census Campaign

There are so many other ways to get involved:

Visit the Census Campaign website.

Sign up to Facebook and follow the campaign on Twitter.


Take the pledge.

Read the blog. Importantly, make sure you tell us what activities you are doing so that we can report on them online!

Don’t forget to tell everyone you know! The success of this campaign really relies on word-of-mouth.

Related articles:

1.       Launching ‘The Census Campaign’: “If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so!”

2.      Secular groups protest ‘Godly’ oath on behalf of census workers

3.      FFRF debuts ‘Out of the Closet/Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist/Agnostic’ campaign



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