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HEALTH

Church-goers have lower blood pressure: study

People who regularly attend church enjoy lower blood pressure than peers who steer clear of the pews, a Norwegian study has found.

Church-goers have lower blood pressure: study
Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/Scanpix

Attending church services benefits the health of both men and women, according to a Nord-Trøndelag health study (HUNT) carried out by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

"We found that the more often HUNT participants went to church, the lower their blood pressure, even when we controlled for a number of other possible explanatory factors," said Torgeir Sørensen, a PhD candidate from the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Centre at Sykehuset Innlandet (Inland Hospital), in a statement.

The study is the first of its kind in Scandinavia, and researchers were surprised to find that their results tallied with similar studies in the United States. 


"About 40 percent of the US population goes to church on a weekly basis, while the corresponding figure in Nord-Trøndelag County is 4 percent. For that reason, we did not expect to find any correlation between going to church and blood pressure in Nord-Trøndelag. Our findings, however, are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States. We were really surprised," Sørensen said.

Looking at a cross section of the population, the researchers selected church attendance as a variable to represent religious activity, while blood pressure was taken as a variable to indicate overall health. And the study found there to be a clear link between the two.

But Professor Jostein Holmen from NTNU's Faculty of Medicine, and one of the authors of the study, injected a note of caution when interpreting the findings.

“Since this is a cross-sectional study, it is not possible to say whether it was a health condition that affected the participants' religious activity, or whether it was the religious activity that affected the state of participants' health," he said

To establish whether such a causal relationship exists, researchers would have to look at the same people who participated in the study but at different times.

Torgeir Sørensen also noted that the study, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, had focused only on Christian worshipers.

"The study of the relationship between religion and health has rarely focused on other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. It is therefore difficult to say anything about whether or not this same association can be found in these communities," he said.

The inhabitants of Nord-Trøndelag County have taken part in three surveys since the health study's inception in 1984. In all, the vast HUNT databases contain information on 120,000 individuals, with early studies indicating there are health benefits to be derived from humour and participation in cultural activities.

"It would appear that the data we have been recording in the HUNT studies about religious beliefs is actually relevant to your health, and this is interesting in itself," Holmen said. 



"The fact that church-goers have lower blood pressure encourages us to continue to study this issue. We're just in the start-up phase of an exciting research area in Norway," he said.

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HEALTH

Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office

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