Posted 02.23.2017 | by AMRA

What percentage of Americans practice mindfulness meditation, and how do they differ from those who do not? Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Statistics (NCS) conducts an annual National Health Interview Survey using U.S. Census Bureau-trained interviewers. They visit some 35,000-40,000 households, obtaining self-report health data from a representative sample of 75,000-100,000 Americans, and providing the most complete snapshot of the nation’s health in any given year.

Additionally, every five years, the NCS and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health conjointly collect supplementary data on the use of alternative and complementary medicine. Morone et al. [Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine] analyzed data from the 2012 surveys to assess the prevalence of mindfulness meditation practice, who uses it, and why.

The 2012 NHIS survey collected information from 108,131 adults. The researchers examined the data from respondents who reported using “mindfulness meditation including Vipassana, Zen Buddhist meditation, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy” during the previous 12 months. It also compared them to respondents who reported they did not practice mindfulness meditation on various demographic variables, health behaviors, acute and chronic illnesses, and physical and mental health issues.

On the basis of this data, the researchers estimated that well over two million American adults engaged in mindfulness meditation in 2012. Women made up 61% of the mindfulness meditators. As a group, mindfulness meditators were an average of seven years older than non-meditators, and while more likely to be white and college educated, did not differ in terms of socio-economic status. Mindfulness meditation practice was more prevalent in Western states, and less prevalent in the South.

Mindfulness meditators were more likely to smoke, but also more likely to engage in regular moderate exercise. Mindfulness meditators (mean BMI = 27.3 kg/m2) were less likely to be obese than non-meditators (mean BMI = 30.6 kg/m2). While mindfulness meditators were 12-15% more likely to report aches and pains and 19% more likely to report acute head and chest colds, they were 3-11% less likely to report chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and COPD.

On the other hand, mindfulness meditators were 10% more likely to report mental disorders, 26% more likely to report having been nervous, 11% more likely to report having been sad, 16% more likely to report feeling stressed, and 27% more likely to report having had insomnia. All of these differences were statistically significant.

The observed higher levels of pain and negative emotions in mindfulness meditators is probably due to the fact that these are the symptoms that often motivate people to start meditating, rather than being the result of meditation. The results suggest that with the notable exception of smoking, meditators are generally more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and, despite their older age, be less likely to be obese or report a variety of chronic illnesses. Their increased likelihood of smoking may reflect their greater levels of anxiety, sadness, mental illness, and stress, which may also account for their increased frequency of acute colds.

This study broadens our understanding of who currently engages in mindfulness meditation in the U.S. and why. The study is limited by the lack of information on practitioners’ duration, frequency, and consistency of mindfulness practice.

Reference:

Morone, N. E., Moore, C. G., & Greco, C. M. (2017). Characteristics of adults who used mindfulness meditation: United states, 2012. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

[Link to abstract]