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Are variations in rates of attending cultural activities associated with population health in the United States?

(2007, 7:226)

February 13, 201313 February 2013

Cultural participation / Social benefits of culture

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Based on a survey of 1,244 American adults, this research article finds that there is “significant association between cultural activities and self-reported health (SRH)”, even controlling for demographic factors.

The statistical models prepared for the article show that age, marital status, social class, employment status, income level, education, and participation in cultural activities were all correlated with self-reported health. Furthermore, the research also found that “the more cultural activities people reported attending, the better was their SRH…. Each additional event attended was associated with a 12% … increased chance of reporting good/excellent health.”

On the other hand, the researchers note that the models do not show a statistically significant relationship between any single cultural event and self-reported health. “The results therefore are silent as to whether attending each type of event is particularly strongly associated with better health.”

The researchers discuss possible reasons why cultural activities might have positive health benefits:

  • “People frequently attend cultural events with friends; being part of a social group that provides social, emotional and instrumental support has positive health benefits.”
  • “The arts have been used for several decades as a therapeutic health-enhancing tool…. Music, art, and mental imagery can have a beneficial impact on both mental and physical health.”
  • Reduced levels of stress: It is “possible that attending cultural activities serves as a buffer against harmful stress, thereby lowering disease risk”. “Participating in leisure time activities is an effective mechanism of coping with stress and engaging in activities that are perceived to be meaningful may be particularly important during periods of stress.”

The researchers conclude that there is an association between cultural activities and health that should be investigated further. They recommend that future research “use longitudinal experimental methods and clinical end-points” to examine whether cultural participati0n does indeed have health benefits.

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