05/26/2011 05:57 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2011

Americans Are Increasingly Praying For Their Health: Study

Americans, especially women and African-Americans, are increasingly turning to prayer when it comes to health issues, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

The study, which appears in the latest issue of the APA publication Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, found adults in the United States prayed about their health 36 percent more in 2007 than they did a decade before.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts and West Virginia University crunched data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999, 2002 and 2007 National Health Surveys. The 2007 survey was the most recent one that included questions about prayer.

In 1999, 13 percent of adults over age 18 reported praying about health issues. That compares to 43 percent in 2002 and 49 percent in 2007. The study focused primarily on the 2002 and 2007 surveys, which questioned 30,080 adults and 23,393 adults, respectively.

"The United States did have an increase in worship attendance across multiple religious faiths immediately after the 9/11 attack, but that has not stayed elevated," noted the study's lead author, Dr. Amy Wachholtz of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

"However, people continued to use informal and private spiritual practices such as prayer," Wachholtz said. She also noted "a greater public awareness of Buddhist-based mindfulness practices that can include prayerful meditation, which individuals may also be using to address a variety of health concerns."

The study reported that people who considered their health to be waning and those who found their health to be improving said they prayed more. According to Wachholtz, that suggests that people with progressive diseases or quick changes in health are likely to use prayer as a way to cope.

Steve Peoples, pastor at Mission Hill Church in Topeka, Kan., said he has seen the power of prayer first hand.

"I don't think there is any question that God answers prayers and heals people," said Peoples, who in recent years has had two kidney stones and seen a close friend survive cancer. Peoples said he found himself praying throughout those struggles.

He is also a part of Medi-Share, a Christian health-sharing organization that is similar to insurance and only accepts Christians who follow a specific Bible-based lifestyle as members. Members help foot each others medical bills and pray for one another when they are sick.

"A majority of my prayer would not be focused on my health and safety, but my prayers are more geared toward what I can do for God," Peoples said. "I think there is a correlation between that and wellness and that there is some blessing provided there."

Shais Taub, a Pittsburgh-based rabbi who specializes in ministering to Jews with alcohol and drug addictions, said prayer is especially popular among addicts.

"When human power no longer works, we entertain the notion of letting God give it a whirl," he said. "Other diseases, we keep throwing drugs and therapy at them to the bitter end. ... With the addict, when that stuff doesn't seem to work, we've learned to go straight the the source of all healing."

The APA study did not look at which methods of prayer people used or which religion they practiced. It also did not look at whether the adults surveyed experienced sickness before turning to prayer, or prayed before they got sick.

It did, however, look at race, class and gender.

Health-related prayer increased across all groups, but adults with the highest incomes were 15 percent less likely to pray for their health than those with the lowest incomes.

"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."

Women were more likely to pray for their health than men -- 56 percent of women reported health-related prayer in 2007 compared to 40 percent of men -- as were black Americans when compared to whites. Sixty-one percent of blacks reported health-related prayer in 2007, while 45 percent of whites reported the same.

People who exercised regularly were 25 percent less likely to pray about health than than those who did not exercise.

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