Background: Compared to Whites, Blacks are exposed to higher levels of chronic stress in the United States. As a result, major Black-White differences exist in the baseline and response of cortisol. Yet, the potential association between baseline religiosity and subsequent cortisol levels of Blacks are not known.
Objectives: In the current study we aimed to determine the association between baseline religious behaviors and daytime salivary cortisol level among male and female Black youth.
Materials and Methods: With a longitudinal design, data came from wave 1 (1994) and wave 6 (2000) of a cohort from an urban area in the Midwest of the United States. The study followed 227 Black adolescents (109 males and 118 females) for six years. Socio-demographics and religious behaviors (frequency of participation in religious activities) were measured at baseline. Base morning cortisol level at wave 6 was the outcome. We fitted a linear regression model to test the association between baseline religiosity at wave 1 and cortisol level at wave 6, while baseline age, socio-economics, and psychological symptoms were controlled.
Results: In the pooled sample, frequency of participation in religious activities at baseline was negatively associated with mean cortisol level at follow up (r = -0.29, P > 0.01) among all, males (r = -0.38, P > 0.01), but not females (r = -.20, P > 0.05). Frequency of participation in religious activities remained a significant predictor of subsequent cortisol level (b = -0.283, 95% CI = -.107 – -0.022) while the effect of age, socioeconomics, and psychological symptoms were controlled. We could only find such an association among male Black youth (b = -0.368, 95% CI = -0.148 – -0.024) but not female Black youth (b = -0.229, 95% CI = -.113 – 0.011).
Conclusions: Religiosity has been used as a coping mechanism among Blacks. Religiosity may also be related to stress regulation among Black youth. Future studies need to test complex associations between race, sex, religiosity, chronic stress, coping, and function of hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA). It is not known whether male Black youth who are and those who are not religious differently cope with stress associated with daily discrimination and living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.