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Gerontology Institute Studies Ethnicity, Religion, and Health - 2004


Religion and health has become a topic of national interest, particularly since the editors of Newsweek magazine chose it for their cover story in November 2003. Little of the growing body of research on religion and health has been directed toward African Americans, despite the documented importance of religion in the lives of African Americans and the existence of numerous health disparities in this population.

In August 2002, the Gerontology Institute received a one-year grant of $71,500 from the National Institute on Aging to study the influence of religion on health beliefs and behaviors in three-generation African American families. The specific aims for the study are: 1) to compare, across generations, how religion influences beliefs about health, 2) to examine how religion affects health behaviors, and 3) to understand the role of grandparents in the transmission of religious values and health beliefs to younger generations. Data for this study were collected through individual interviews with three family members, one from each generation, and a family group discussion.

Preliminary findings show that the families ground their health beliefs and behaviors in their religious values. Further, the multigenerational family functions as a faith-based, health maintenance system, influenced largely by the religiosity and the health status of the family elders. Findings from this study can contribute to the development of a theoretical framework which could be used to develop culturally-relevant interventions that can contribute to the reduction of health disparities among African Americans