Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


Exercise Science


The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Sara Wilcox


Health disparities within the United States (US) are continuing to impact ethnic minorities living in rural areas nationwide. In response, there is growing interest in using faith-based settings as vehicles to deliver much needed disease prevention interventions. However, few studies have identified the relationship between private and public religious commitment, individually, and the behaviors or risk factors associated with chronic disease. The purpose of this study was to observe the association between religious commitment, both private (i.e., time spent trying to grow in one’s religious understanding) and public (i.e., frequency of attendance, time spent in fellowship with others) individually, and levels of physical activity (PA), fruit and vegetable (F&V) consumption, self-efficacy in changing those behaviors, and body mass index (BMI). Self-reported data were gathered from rural church members (≥18 years old) located within a single southeastern US county included in Phase 1 of the Faith, Activity, and Nutrition Dissemination and Implementation (FAN D&I) study. Distributed surveys assessed components of FAN implementation, participation in moderate and vigorous PA, F&V consumption, PA and F&V self-efficacy, demographic and health information, church attendance, and private and public religious commitment. Correlation analyses were performed to determine the strength of association between predictor and outcome variables. Study hypotheses were tested by examining relations between public and private religious commitment (independent variables) and health behaviors with multiple linear and logistic regression models. Mixed models were used to adjust for the clustering of participants within churches. Private and public religious commitment were run in separate models because of collinearity between measures. All models controlled for church randomization assignment, member health rating, education, age, and gender. Participants (n=1,443) were predominantly women (68.75%), African American (88.84%), and, on average, 54.8  15.8 years of age. Roughly half the sample was obese (50.49%), self-reported having high blood pressure (55.86%), and had some college education (49.71%). Private and public religious commitment were not associated with meeting MVPA recommendations, meeting F&V consumption recommendations, or BMI. Both religious commitment measures, however, were moderately and positively associated with F&V (p=<.01) and PA (p=<.01) self-efficacy and negatively associated with physical inactivity (p=.01). Religious service attendance was not associated with any of the study’s outcome variables. Significant relationships between religious commitment and PA self-efficacy, F&V self-efficacy, and physical inactivity suggest that individuals who indicate a higher degree of religious commitment are more likely to believe in their ability to succeed in improving PA and healthy eating behaviors, and are less likely to be physically inactive. This study adds to the scientific literature describing the association between religion/spirituality and increased longevity. Future researchers should use study samples with greater religious commitment variability, use more objective measures for PA participation and comprehensive measures for F&V consumption behaviors, and employ measures separate from religious service attendance to quantify degrees of religiosity.


© 2017, Nathan A. Peters