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In England, parents whose baby died of malnutrition weren’t practicing recommended Adventist diet

Church leader: ‘outside influences’ drew family away from ‘supportive Adventist community’

An incident in England in which a baby died of malnutrition has raised media attention over a proper understanding of dietary recommendations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventist Church officials responded by saying a balanced diet—which the church recommends—could have prevented the tragedy.

Nkosiyapha Kunene and his wife Virginia pleaded guilty in a court last month to charges of manslaughter after their five-month-old son Ndingeko died of rickets in 2012. Prosecutors alleged that the couple had put their baby on a “strict diet as part of their faith,” according to media reports.

The Adventist Church’s British Union Conference released a statement last week saying that while the couple was registered as members of the denomination at the time of their marriage in 2009 they do “not appear to have attended any specific Adventist church on a regular basis after that time.”

“It would appear that during this period outside influences drew the family away from their spiritual home and the sound counsel and support that would have come to them within a supportive Adventist community,” said Sharon Platt-McDonald, Health Ministries director for the British Union Conference. “Unfortunately this led them to make health choices that were not in the best interests of their child. We were very saddened to hear of this tragedy.”

Platt-McDonald said Adventist health professionals “would always advise church members to seek and listen to medical advice.” She said the denomination also regularly delivers health presentations to both church members and the public.

Rickets is a result of a severe deficiency of Vitamin D, which aids the body in absorbing calcium.

“It’s never been the church’s stance to put people on extreme, unbalanced and non-evidence-based diets,” said Dr. Peter Landless, Health Ministries director for the Adventist world church. “We continue to recommend the best available diet in the geographic territories in which people find themselves.”

One of the recommendations of the Adventist Church, Landless said, is a balanced diet that includes supplementation when it is needed. “This is not uncommon in infancy for all infants,” he said.

Adventists in recent years have become well known as one of the longest living people groups ever studied. Preliminary results from an ongoing study of Adventists in the United States were widely reported by major international news agencies last year. The study, which is sponsored in part by the National Institutes of Health, confirmed the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

In 2008, “Blue Zones” book author Dan Buettner wrote extensively about the health principles of Adventists and their longer, healthier lifespans.