Obesity and the physical problems associated with it have become increasingly problematic in our society. In 1991 only four states in the United States had obesity prevalence rates in the 15-19 percent range, and no states reported obesity prevalence rates above 20 percent. By 2005, only four states reported obesity prevalence rates below 20 percent, and 3 states reported rates of obesity at equal or greater than 30 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30 in adults. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in pounds by the height in inches, squared, and multiplying by a conversion factor of 703. Many health related problems have been associated with obesity, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis and some types of cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). Obesity is only one the problems reported by college students. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997), one in five college students are overweight and nearly half of students perceive themselves as being overweight. More than 70 percent of students fail to eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and many partake of the high fat food items that are commonly available through food service and vending machines on college campuses. More than 40 percent of students fail to participate in moderate to physical exercise. Other health behaviors add to the students’ risk of serious health problems; nearly one third reported being tobacco users, 35% had reported episodic heavy drinking in the preceding 30 days, and 14% had used marijuana in the preceding 30 days. Nationwide, nearly 17% of students admit to using a combination of alcohol and drugs at last sexual intercourse. Students and non-students alike may use behaviors such as smoking, alcohol use or eating as a means to cope with stress. Others may turn to religious coping to deal with the stresses in their lives. People may turn to prayer or meditation in response to daily stressors, or they may seek support from clergy of church members. While most forms of religious coping would be perceived as positive methods, some may conversely be perceived as negative methods. Positive coping expresses a sense of spirituality, a belief that there is meaning in life, the feeling of a secure relationship with God and a spiritual connectedness with others. Negative coping is characterized by a less secure relationship with God, an ominous or tenuous relationship with the world and a struggle with finding purpose and meaning in the world. There are 16 types of positive and negative religious coping (Pargament, Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998). In this study I will study two of the 16 methods and how they correlate with overall health and healthy behaviors of the participants. The two coping methods that will be studied are spiritual connection and spiritual discontent. Spiritual connection is defined as experiencing a sense of connectedness with forces that transcend the individual. This goal is accomplished by looking for a stronger connection with God and a stronger spiritual connection with others, thinking about how one’s life is part of a larger spiritual force, and building a strong relationship with a higher power. Spiritual discontent is defined as expressing confusion and dissatisfaction with God’s relationship to the individual in a stressful situation. This is expressed as concerns about abandonment by God, voicing anger that prayers have not been answered by God, questioning God’s love and care, and an expression of anger at God (Pargament, Koenig, & Perez, 2000). Individuals who employ positive religious coping may be more likely to be part of a religious congregation in order to find a spiritual connection with others. Some studies have found that people who feel that they are part of a congregation tend to be satisfied with their physical health, regardless of what it might be (Krause & Wulff 2005). This satisfaction is probably advantageous to church members overall health, but it could also have a down side. A study conducted by Kenneth Ferraro (1998) showed that although church attendance may lead to more satisfaction with overall health, those who attend church are more likely to be overweight. Ferraro’s study indicates that this may be particularly true in denominations in which members are accepted regardless of lifestyle, in contrast to denominations which stress health protective behaviors (e.g. Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists. However, another study indicates that those with a higher level of spiritual connection and commitment may see their bodies as a manifestation of God because of individual beliefs and those of their religion, such as prohibitions against illicit drug use and the use of tobacco, alcohol or caffeine. Participants who believed in the sanctification of the body were more likely to make physical fitness a priority in their lives (Mahoney et al., 2005). Sanctification is defined as a psychological process through which aspects of life are perceived by people as having a spiritual character and significance (Mahoney, Pargament, Swank & Swank 2003). Spiritual discontent and negative religious coping have been associated with depression and other psychological symptoms, poorer quality of life and callousness towards others (Pargament, Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998). However, the spiritual connection coping style may also have negative effects on those who use it. A study of Pentecostal Christians showed that their denomination stresses religious practices to receive divine healing. Negative emotions have been attributed to the work of the devil. (Trice & Bjorck, 2006). If someone feels that his or her spiritual practice has not been good enough to reduce physical or mental disease, being with a congregation may exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. This study measured the health of the participants within certain parameters of physical and mental health. A memory test was given to test cognitive functioning and participants completed a survey to determine their participation in behaviors which promote physical health and well-being. The survey also determined if the participants use the spiritual connection or spiritual discontent styles of coping. This study was conducted with the hypothesis that participants who use the spiritual connection style of religious coping would have better overall health, with lower blood pressure, lower body mass index and obesity and would be more likely to participate in healthy behaviors than those who experience spiritual discontent.
Participants in this study were undergraduate students enrolled in one of several psychology classes at Missouri Western State University. Each student was given extra credit in class for participation in the study. Of the 101 participants, 68 were female and 33 were male. The mean age was 21.6 (sd = 6.4). Sixty eight participants were Protestant, 17 were Catholic, 9 had other undetermined religions, 5 reported no religious preference and 2 did not record any religious affiliation. Of the sample, 80 were European-American, 9 were African-American, and 12 were of other ethnicities. Each participant signed an informed consent form.
Participants had their blood pressures checked with an electronic blood pressure cuff, Mark of Fitness; model MF46, which is manufactured by Mark of Fitness, Incorporated, Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Participants were weighed on Health-O-Meter Scales, manufactured by Continental Scale Corporation, Bridgeview, Illinois and their waists were measured with a tape measure. All measurements were recorded as well as time of testing and time of last meal eaten (Refer to Appendix A). Participants were given two memory tests, a word list and a story recall, based on subscales of the Wechsler Memory Scale (Refer to Appendix B). Participants completed a brief demographic survey about factors such as age, gender, year in college and ethnic background. Participants also completed a survey based on sub-scales of the following tests: The UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell, Peplau, & Ferguson,1978), Type D Personality Inventory, Cognitive Organization, Optimism Scale, Rosenberg (1972) Self-Esteem Scale, Perceived Stress Inventory, two Healthy Behaviors Inventories, Five Frequently Used Items to Measure General Religion, and 5 sub-scales of the RCOPE (Pargament et al. 1988) (refer to Appendix C).
Upon arrival at the testing area, participants were shown to a quiet room where they were instructed to lie down for three minutes. After three minutes, the participants’ blood pressure was recorded. The participants were then asked to stand for one minute and their blood pressure was measured a second time. The participants’ height, weight, and waists were measured and recorded as well as the time of the last meal eaten and any medications currently taken. Following the physical measures, a battery of memory tests was administered to the participants. A list of 16 words was read to the participants and they were asked to recall as many as possible. A short, one paragraph story was read to the participants and they were asked to recall the story as accurately as possible. The participants were then asked to recall as many words as possible from the first list of words (Refer to Appendix B). The participants completed an extensive questionnaire. (Refer to Appendix C). The participants were identified by the last four digits of their social security numbers. This number was recorded on all forms as a means of matching data gathered.
RESULTS An independent-samples t test was calculated comparing the mean score of religious coping in those who are Type D and those who are not Type D. No significant difference was found between Type D and Non-D controls in spiritual connection (t (99) = 1.46, p = 0.15) and spiritual discontent (t (-1.178), p= .24). Equal variances were assumed for spiritual connection because Levene’s test for equality of variances was not significant (p > .05). Equal variances was not assumed for spiritual discontent because Levene’s test for equality of variances was significant ( p = .04). ` Table 1 provides the Pearson bivariate correlations between religious coping and health variables. There was a moderate positive correlation between spiritual connection and healthy behaviors (r = .45, p < .01). As reports of spiritual connection increased, reports of healthy behaviors increased.
DISCUSSION This study found a moderate correlation between Spiritual Connection and participation in healthy behaviors. Spiritual Discontent was weakly correlated with body mass index and Type D personality. The correlation between Spiritual Connection and participation in healthy behaviors is consistent with the findings of Mahoney, et al., (2005), who found that those who sanctified the body participated in more health protective behaviors because sanctification of the body is closely tied to investing in and appreciating the body. Those who sanctify the body, and see it as a gift from God or the human representation of God are probably more likely to care for it as a means of exalting that which they view as being sacred. This study also found weak correlations between Spiritual Discontent and body mass index, Type D personality and a weak negative correlation with healthy behaviors. While the categories were not strongly correlated individually, the three correlations when considered together seem to fit a pattern. Those who do not exercise regularly, also may not eat in a healthy manner, or participate in other behaviors which protect health and reduce body mass index. There was also a weak correlation between Spiritual Discontent and Type D personality. Depression may also tie in with the lack of other health protective factors, especially if the participants don’t exercise; participation in various types of exercise has been found to have an antidepressant effect (Ernst, Olson, Pinel, Lam & Christie, 2006). An ex post facto analysis of data showed that Spiritual Discontent was moderately negatively correlated with optimism (r = -.41, p < .01) and self esteem (r = -.31, p < .01), and there was a moderate correlation between Spiritual Discontent and loneliness (r = .31, p < .01). These three categories were also correlated with one another. It is possible that there is a connection with the correlation between Spiritual Discontent and body mass index and these negative affects. It is possible that because the participants feel unacceptable to society because of their weight, their self esteem and optimism is lowered and they are less likely to participate in social behaviors which leads to loneliness. Studies have indicated that stigmatizing the overweight is still socially acceptable in a society where it is taboo to discriminate for reasons such as race, ethnicity or gender. Western society, which is largely Judeo-Christian, associates being overweight with gluttony and sloth, which are two of the seven deadly sins; therefore society sees those who are overweight as sinful and lacking in moral rectitude (Rogge & Greenwald, 2004). These individuals may feel discontent in their spiritual lives because they may feel that if they are unacceptable to society, they are unacceptable to God. This study did not correlate all of these factors, but future research may look for relationships among these factors. Because all of the participants were college students, the mean age was low. If research was done with an older population, there may be a stronger correlation between Spiritual Discontent and blood pressure or body mass index, since both of these tend to be lower in younger people and increase with age. Students may be less sure of their spiritual relationships than older adults, and therefore be less effected by changes in their spiritual relationships. As mentioned earlier, the relationships between Spiritual Discontent, Type D, and increased body mass merit further study. It would be interesting to find if depression causes the Spiritual Discontent or if Spiritual Discontent causes depression. The weak correlations between low self esteem, low optimism, loneliness, and Spiritual Discontent also merits further investigation. A follow up study of those participants with traits could possible determine which of these factors in strongest, and if there is a causal relationship. Continued studies of religious coping styles and their relationship with physical and mental health factors could be useful to religious organizations that wish to help their members improve mental and physical health and health behaviors.
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