Why are Seventh-day Adventists interested in Health?
(The Adventist Health Advantage)
The work of healthcare and healing is a central belief of the Adventist Church.
As early as 1863, Ellen White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, counseled the fledgling on the importance of healthful living. The outstanding feature of her initial message was the relation between physical welfare and spiritual health, or holiness. In 1866, the early Adventist Church started the western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-day Adventist pioneer, and his brother William were complicit in developing what we know today as corn flakes and improving the production of peanut butter.
Throughout her life, Ellen White was the channel of information that fashioned the church’s philosophy and emphasis on health. Long before medical evidence emerged on the dangers of smoking, Ellen White spoke out strongly on this and other issues, including the use of alcohol and poisonous medications such as arsenicals and mercury-based drugs. The drinking of tea and coffee, and use of stimulants was very strongly discouraged, as, ultimately, was the use of flesh food. She promoted a lacto-ova vegetarian diet as the optimal diet. In addition, the use of fresh, clean water (inside and out), clean air, adequate exercise and rest, faith, appropriate sunshine exposure, integrity and social support were strongly encouraged. These principles still form the foundation of our health education and practice. The health teaching and initiatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are based on the Bible, Ellen White’s counsels, and evidence-based scientific health principles.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Seventh-day Adventist church led the way in the smoking cessation initiatives of the world by developing the famous Five-day Plan to Stop Smoking. This program was subsequently revised twice and now functions as the Breathe Free 2 program. The program is implemented in countries around the world via the Internet and in group meetings. The Adventist church has a strong history of promoting temperance and promoting the abstinence from alcohol. It continues to do this work through the auspices of the International Health and Temperance Association and the International Commission for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (ICPA).
Time (October 1966) reported the positive outcome of the first Adventist Health Study, describing the results as the “Adventist Advantage.” There was significant reduction in most cancers, and cirrhosis of the liver. Subsequent studies have shown a significant increase in longevity in those living the Adventist lifestyle. The results of meta-analyses have been so compelling that NIH allocated $29 million to conduct Adventist Health Study II (AHS 2), with a special emphasis on the differences in malignancies between Adventists and the general population.
Further international attention was focused on the Adventist health emphasis in the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, which emphasized the “secrets of living longer.” This reporting stimulated Dan Buettner to write the book entitled The Blue Zones. A blue zone is an area or region where people remain healthy and well, actively participating into their 80s, 90 and even 100s! The longevity of Seventh-day Adventists has been documented in numerous parts of the world and is a reproducible endpoint which demonstrates the benefits of the lifestyle and wholistic approach of Seventh-day Adventists to daily living.
In February 2009, U.S. News and World Report posted an article entitled “10 Habits That Will Help You Live to 100!” Number 8 stated:
“Live like a Seventh-day Adventist. Americans who define themselves as Seventh Day Adventists (sic) 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.”
The first Adventist Health Study took place in California, comparing the health of Seventh-day Adventists and non-Seventh-day Adventists. This showed the advantages alluded to already and significantly prolonged life expectancy of between 7 to 9 years. AHS-2 has enrolled 95,000 participants throughout the USA and Canada, and has a special focus on diversity and a sub-study on spirituality and health. Already, there are exciting facts emerging confirming the benefits of a plant-based diet and how this impacts and reduces the incidence of non-communicable diseases.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has six medical schools (three more are in the planning stages in East Central Africa and South America), over 70 nursing schools, and 650 hospitals, clinics, and dispensaries. Over 250,000 employees work in the various denominational health systems which are all not-for-profit. Over 19 million outpatients and 1.5 million inpatients are served each year. Charity healthcare to the value of over 1.1 billion US dollars is extended to the various communities worldwide annually.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a track record of collaboration with both the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). And is currently engaged in a collaborative project focused on reducing maternal mortality in four African countries including Lesotho, Cameroon, Malawi, and Botswana. Partners in the latter project include General Conference Adventist Health Ministries, Loma Linda University, and the World Health Organization. The church has active collaborative projects with PAHO in South America’s most needy countries, especially in the area of mental health. The Adventist Church has organized and sponsored two Global Conferences on Lifestyle and Health in Geneva; PAHO and WHO have been active partners in these ventures. The most recent Global Conference took place in Loma Linda, California, in July 2019.
- D.E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message, Southern Publishing Association, 1965
- Time magazine, October 28, 1966
- Gary E. Fraser, Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians, Oxford University Press, 2003
- Dan Buettner, The Secrets of Long Life, National Geographic, November 2005
- U.S.News & World Report, February 20, 2009