Faith effects

A new study, published in the journal Circulation, suggests that when it comes to heart disease and clogged arteries, maintaining a faith does not lessen the likelihood off suffering a heart attack and stroke.

“There’s not a lot of extra burden or extra protection afforded by this particular aspect of people’s lives,” concluded Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, who led the study.

In a review of data from nearly 5,500 people, Lloyd-Jones and his colleagues expected to see less risk for heart disease among those with more “religiosity.”

The researchers defined religiosity as participation in religious activities, prayer or meditation, and spirituality, regardless of denomination. They did not report the religious faiths of study participants.

Over the course of four years, those in the study had 152 events related to heart disease or clogged arteries, including 9 deaths, 42 heart attacks, and 24 strokes.

That rate of such events – less than one per cent per year – was lower than in the general population, which the team expected because they excluded people who were already diagnosed with heart disease and related conditions.

However, neither the rate of heart disease events, nor the number of certain risk factors – such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure – differed among those who were more or less religious or spiritual.


The researchers did note that those who went to religious services, prayed, meditated, or were highly spiritual were more likely to be obese, and less likely to smoke.

Given that many religions discourage smoking tobacco, the smoking finding was not difficult to explain, Lloyd-Jones said, but the reasons for the obesity finding were less clear.

“We’re not sure whether it is that religious people are more likely to gain weight through activities they pursue, or maybe heavier people seek out religion as a result of stigmatisation,” said Lloyd-Jones.

Dr Harold G. Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, said the obesity finding was not surprising, given that congregations and families often “fellowship” over meals.

Koenig, who has studied the potential connection between health and religion, was not involved in Lloyd-Jones’ work. He said the research is well done but has a lot of limitations that make the meaning of the results unclear.

For example, he said the low rate of heart attacks and other events could be a weakness of the study, because at small numbers, the likelihood of an effect was harder to tease out.

Koenig also noted that half of the people studied were either African American or Hispanic, groups that, on average, have poorer access to health care than whites and Asian Americans.

African Americans, on average, are also some of the most religious people in the world, Koenig said.

“When you’ve got a population with this big a difference, struggling, and under stress, religion would have to overcome an enormous number of risk factors to have a significant effect,” he said.


In love? In Tokyo, they shout it out loud

Love really takes to the air in Tokyo once a year, when dozens of Japanese shout out their ardour for spouses, partners – and even themselves – at an event that’s also broadcast on national television.

Japanese have traditionally valued modesty and reticence over outspokenness, but Kiyotaka Yamana, a Tokyo resident who started the “Love Message Yelling Event” after his marriage failed, said that didn’t mean they were unromantic.

“The dominant image of Japanese men is of overworked businessmen, but I wanted to tell people around world that Japanese men are actually very romantic,” Yamana says.

The event, which precedes “Love Your Wife Day” on January 31, took place at the Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, co-hosted by a citizen group dedicated to devoted husbands.

Most of the 30 or so participants took to the stage, yelling “I love you” or “Let me be with you.”

Some of declarations reflected the gloomy economic situation: one husband, his voice choked up with tears, thanked his wife for staying with him although he lost his job more than a year ago.

The increased economic clout of women and changing social attitudes toward marriage, which is no longer seen as necessary for either gender, have kept an increasing number of Japanese single.

But for those who have a special someone in their lives, the “Love Message Yelling Event” helped give relationships a boost.

“My heart throbbed with excitement. It really touched me,” said a 38-year-old Ayako Kikuchi, holding the hand of husband Kenichi who had just finished yelling “Ayako, I love you” on the stage.

Other participants said they found the event emotionally liberating.

“I feel refreshed after I yell, so, from now on, I’ll tell my girl directly that I love her … but not this loud,” said a 27-year-old businessman Kenzaburo Cho after telling his fiancĂ©e: “Stay with me for all your life. I love you.”

One kimono-clad woman, who said she was unmarried, confessed to the audience that she loved herself the most and a single man who said he wished to have a partner amused the crowd by crying out: “Anybody. Please … right now.”