Christian Californians may have a solution to America’s obesity

Lessons in longevity from Seventh-day Adventists

Excerpt – “Seventh-day Adventists believe God made the body as a temple to hold the soul,” says Hans Diehl, a best-selling author on health and nutrition, and a lifelong Adventist. [..] “We believe that taking care of the body is proper. It’s honouring God,” he says. Devout followers eat mostly plants—vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains. Some eat animal products, but most do so sparingly. [..]

One Seventh-day Adventist community, Loma Linda, California, has been dubbed a “Blue Zone”—an area of the world with a large share of centenarians—by two researchers, Michel Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pess, and by Dan Buettner, an author. (The other four Blue Zone areas are Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece.) A study published over 20 years ago found that Adventists who follow the religion’s healthy lifestyle could expect to live ten years longer than others who do not. The research also found that female Californian Adventists live four years longer than other female Californians, and men bested non-Adventists by seven years.

The health advantage also holds true for black members, who make up nearly one-third of the group. White people typically outlive black people in America, but black male Adventists live longer than non-Adventist white men. Women also tend to live about five years longer than men, but this gap closes to only two years among vegetarian Adventists. [..]

Adventism also discourages eating ultra-processed foods, such as white bread. People who consume these foods for half of their total calories have a 14% increase in mortality compared with those who eat such foods for a small portion of their diet.

[..] Mr Buettner, the writer who popularised the Blue Zones, has created the Blue Zones project, which applies principles from Blue Zones to ordinary American towns. Since 2009, over 70 communities in America have joined the programme. It has had promising results. Its first community—Albert Lea, Minnesota—had a 35% drop in smoking between 2010 and 2016. Corry, a small town in Pennsylvania, joined the project in 2019. In three years, the number of residents reporting high cholesterol decreased from 27% to 12%. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that the programme improved life satisfaction and optimism among residents of the Beach Cities (Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach) in California.

The initiative has nine principles that focus on healthy eating, movement, connection with others and having the proper outlook on life. “Wine at five gets people to take a second look,” says Deb Logan, the director for the Blue Zones project in south-west Florida, referring to the principle of drinking one to two glasses of alcohol a day. (In contrast to the Seventh-day Adventists, the other four Blue Zone areas get merry on moderate amounts of alcohol.) Mr Buettner requires broad buy-in from local leaders before working with a community. Restaurants sign up to add plant-based options to their menus. Schools promise to serve healthy lunches and teach pupils about nutrition. Workplaces improve cafeteria options and remove junk-food vending machines. Pavements are widened and bike lanes constructed to encourage walking and cycling. [..]

Following the teachings of a niche Christian denomination is not the only way to live a long, healthy American life. But it does seem to work.”

Full article, The Economist, 2023.2.19