People who eat a vegetarian diet live longer than those who eat meat, according to a study of more than 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists.
A study published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, said vegetarians experienced 12 percent fewer deaths over a six-year period of research.
The study, funded by the United States’ National Institutes of Health, was conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University, an Adventist institution in Southern California. Researchers tracked 73,308 Adventist Church members who follow the church’s dietary counsel of a plant-based diet to varying degrees.
Of the study’s participants, researchers said 5,548 were vegans, 21,177 were lacto-ovo vegetarians (also eating dairy products and eggs), 7,194 were vegetarians who also ate fish, and 4,031 ate meat infrequently. The rest of the study participants ate meat.
The findings confirm health benefits of eating a vegetarian diet, the lead study author Dr. Michael Orlich told Bloomberg News.
“People should take these kinds of results into account as they’re considering dietary choices,” Orlich told Bloomberg. “Various types of vegetarian diets may be beneficial in reducing the risk of death compared to non-vegetarian diets.”
Orlich, director of the preventive medicine residency program at Loma Linda University Medical Center, said the study was aided by studying subjects who have low rates of alcohol and tobacco use.
The Wall Street Journal today pointed out that the study said cancer still struck meat-eaters and vegetarians at similar rates. Also, a vegetarian meal doesn’t automatically make it a healthy one. Deep fried foods contain high amounts of fat, and some meats are healthier than others.
Researchers pointed out that the health benefits were even more beneficial for men. It remained unclear why women were less affected by a vegetarian diet. Future research will examine gender-specific reactions to certain foods.
Dr. Kathleen Kuntaraf, associate Health Ministries director for the Adventist world church, said a vegetarian diet is part of living a holistic, healthy life.
“More and more people are recognizing our principles from 150 years ago are truly scientific,” she said.
Seventh-day Adventists have long advocated a vegetarian diet. The founder of Loma Linda’s School of Public Health overcame resistance in the health community in the 1940s to produce a landmark study on the benefits of a vegetarian diet, discovering that such a diet indeed contained sufficient protein, among other benefits.
In recent years, Adventists have been noted as one of the longest living people groups ever studied. In 2008, “Blue Zones” book author Dan Buettner wrote extensively about the health principles of Adventists and their longer, healthier lifespans.