A long-term study of graduates from two religious colleges found a higher death rate among the Christian Scientist group, whose religion opposes medical treatment, federal health officials said.
The 1945-83 study involved the graduating classes of Christian Science-affiliated Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, Calif., a Seventh-day Adventist institution.The doctrines of both schools require abstinence from alcohol consumption and smoking.
However, "Christian Scientists reject medical healing in favor of spiritual healing alone, whereas Seventh-day Adventists accept both spiritual and medical healing," said the federal Centers for Disease Control, which conducted the study.
Seventh-day Adventists are also required to abstain from eating certain foods, such as pork and shellfish. In addition, the church recommends a vegetarian diet that limits the consumption of meat, poultry or fish to less than once per week.
The Christian Scientist-affiliated college did not require similar diet restrictions.
During the 39-year period, a total of 2,421 men and 2,669 women graduated from Principia College, or PC, and 5,010 men and 3,788 women graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Loma Linda University, or LLU.
"Overall mortality was higher for PC graduates than for LLU graduates, for men 40 per 1,000 and 22 per 1,000 respectively; and for women 27 per 1,000 and 12 per 1,000 respectively," the CDC said.
One drawback of the study was that it did not look at the death rate for comparable graduates from non-religious colleges.
Robert Hahn, an epidemiologist with the CDC, said the study was primarily aimed at determining whether rejection of medical healing in favor of spiritual healing influenced the death rate in a population group.
The CDC researcher conceded the dietary habits of Seventh-day Adventists are associated with lower risks for several chronic diseases. However, another study two years ago comparing mortality of Christian Scientist graduates with those from the University of Kansas also found a higher death rate for the Christian Scientists, he said.
"Previous reports have described differences in health status and disease patterns in religious groups in the United States," the CDC said.