Doctors these days are expected to keep up to date by taking regular courses. Read the materials, answer the questions, and viola! You get some credits towards your ‘continuing medical education’ (or CME).
Just recently, one provider offered a bit-sized piece of CME asking Is Religiosity or Spirituality Protective For Heart Disease? Well, of course I had to check it out. You can too – anyone can take it and it’s only short (you have to register, but that’s free).
First, they hit you with a conundrum. Basically, it’s the story of one Jorge Delgado, who is middle aged and healthy, but with high cholesterol and overweight. But Mr Delgado doesn’t want to take any medications, and here’s why:
Mr. Delgado responds that he is unwilling to take medications because he feels healthy and that he believes that reducing his weight is not a realistic goal, given his family’s cultural values and use of food as an integral part of all social activities. He is proud that his wife and children actively participate in all family events and attend church with him weekly. He has read that being religious and attending church regularly prolongs life and reduces the risk for dying of heart disease. He is willing to increase his church attendance to improve his health. How should his physician respond?
So, what should a responsible physician do? Well, anyone who actually wants to take the quiz should turn away now. Because the correct answer, based on the latest scientific evidence, is…
That turning to religion does not in itself protect you from heart attacks and stroke, although religious people do tend to have healthier behaviours. They list all the evidence to back that up.
But then they make a mistake. They say that “Religiosity/spirituality has been demonstrated to increase the incidence of … obesity”. The evidence for this is a study published earlier this year.
But that study is purely correlational, like pretty much all the evidence linking religion to health (both good and bad). It shows you that the link is there (at least in the US), but doesn’t tell you why. It certainly doesn’t prove that religion is the cause!