Have we made a difference?
As an Adventist university student, I see increasing interest from secular peers in vegetarianism and health. Has the Adventist Church played any role in influencing health outside our church?
We believe so! As early as 1863 Ellen White counseled the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church on healthful living. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh–day Adventist pioneer, and his brother, William, were complicit in developing peanut butter (1890s) and cornflakes. Long before medical evidence emerged, Ellen White spoke out on the harmful effects of the use of tobacco and alcohol. She promoted a balanced vegetarian diet.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Adventist Church led the way in smoking-cessation initiatives worldwide by developing the famous Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking.1 Then followed Breathe-Free, and now the Breathe-Free 2.0 program.2
Time magazine (Oct. 28, 1966) reported the positive outcome of the first Adventist Health Study, describing the results—significant reduction in most cancers, and cirrhosis of the liver, and prolonged life expectancy (seven to nine years)—as the “Adventist Advantage.”3 Because of these compelling results, the National Institutes of Health initially allocated $19 million to conduct Adventist Health Study 2 (95,000 participants throughout the United States and Canada, with specific focus on diversity and a substudy on spirituality and health).
In November 2005 National Geographic emphasized the “secrets of living longer,”4 prominently featuring Seventh-day Adventists. The reporter, Dan Buettner, subsequently wrote the book The Blue Zones. A blue zone is where people remain healthy and well, actively participating into their 80s, 90s, and even 100s! Adventists are featured.
In February 2009 U.S. News and World Report posted 10 habits that will help you live to 100! Number 8: “Live like a Seventh-day Adventist. Americans who define themselves as Seventh-day Adventists have an average life expectancy of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. One of the basic tenets of the religion is that it’s important to cherish the body that’s on loan from God, which means no smoking, alcohol abuse, or overindulging in sweets. Followers typically stick to a vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, and get plenty of exercise. They’re also very focused on family and community.”5
It’s great to live a few years longer, but it’s more important to do as Jesus and “do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4, NIV).
Seventh-day Adventists believe that God has given consistent guidance on how we can be healthy, happy, and holy. It’s exciting to live in a time when science confirms the instructions given more than 100 years ago, which still positively influence health behavior widely! We should live it, share it, and be the difference for all!
1 Developed by Dr. J. Wayne McFarland and Elman J. Folkenberg.
3 Gary E. Fraser, Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians (Oxford University Press, 2003).
4 Dan Buettner, “The Secrets of Long Life,” National Geographic, November 2005.
5 U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 20, 2009.