BY COLLEEN TINKER
Snopes, the go-to internet site that publishes research to validate or invalidate popular news stories and rumors carried by social media sources, released an article this week on Tuesday, December 12, addressing the widely-believed claim that vegetarians live longer than those who eat meat.
Snopes conclusion: this belief is unproven.
This idea, Snopes says, comes mostly from the much-publicized Adventist Health Study which “utilized data collected from 1976 and 1988”. The Snopes article states, “A 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) based on data from the first Adventist Health Study provides the basis for most vegetarian longevity claims.”
Significantly, Loma Linda researchers “published a follow-up paper in 2013, but their earlier figure is still frequently cited, in part because its findings offer the perception of being unambiguous. The 2013 study, which includes more recent data, found a similar association, but was more muted in its treatment of a potential direct causation between vegetarianism and longevity. The authors of the study suggested its results…may not be directly applicable to other populations.”
This month, December, 2017, Loma Linda launched a new study: “Adventist Health Study 2”.
Snopes points out that there have been other studies done recently that have yielded different conclusions. A 2015 study “of more than 60,000 people in the United Kingdom, part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford (EPIC-Oxford)…found that vegetarianism provided no overall reduction in risk of early death, though it found that some low-meat diets reduced the risk of death from specific ailments.”
Additionally, a paper written in 2017 analyzed the results of an Australian study that looked at 240,000 Australians, “the 45 and UP Study”. This study “found no increased longevity from avoiding meat.” A quote from this paper states,
“We have shown in a large population-based Australian cohort that there is no difference in mortality between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The results of our study seem consistent with other studies and meta-analyses which have shown that in non-selected populations a vegetarian diet is not associated with reduced mortality.”
The problem with vegetarian studies has been that there are other factors besides diet which accompany those who are studied. For example, whether or not a person smokes can skew the results if one is not accounting for that difference among test subjects. Melody Ding is a co-author of a paper discussing the results of this Australian study. She writes,
“It’s important to acknowledge that in most studies vegetarians tend to be the ‘health-conscious’ people, with overall healthier lifestyle patterns than the norm. […] In most previous studies, vegetarians did have lower risk of early death from all causes in unadjusted analysis However, after controlling for other lifestyle factors…the risk reduction often decreased significantly (or even completely vanished). […] This suggests other characteristics beyond abstinence from meat may contribute to best health among vegetarians.”
As a result of these later studies, Snopes concludes that there is a growing skepticism of a “direct correlation between vegetarianism and longevity.” Nevertheless, enough controversy remains over the subject that Snopes does not declare this idea to be “untrue”, but it does say it is “unproven”.
Adventism’s commitment to vegetarianism remains firm. Since Ellen White herself advocated vegetarianism and even stated that the time was coming when dairy products would also need to be eliminated because of animal disease, the idea of meatless diets is part of the warp and woof of Adventist theology. In Counsels for the Church, p. 225.2, EGW says,
The diet reform should be progressive. As disease in animals increases, the use of milk and eggs will become more and more unsafe. An effort should be made to supply their place with other things that are healthful and inexpensive. The people everywhere should be taught how to cook without milk and eggs, so far as possible and yet have their food wholesome and palatable.
Adventism continues to be at the forefront of research advocating vegetarianism—a fact emphasized by the statement in the Snopes article that most of the claim for vegetarians’ longevity has quoted the first Adventist Health Study—a study which has subsequently been shown to be too unequivocal in its conclusions. This persistent belief and Adventists’ unabated energy to proselytize people to vegetarianism has its roots in Ellen White’s counsel. Here are a few of her many condemnations of meat-eating. These are all taken from her book Counsels for the Church:
The liability to take disease is increased tenfold by meat eating (p. 229.3).
From the light God has given me, the prevalence of cancer and tumors is largely due to gross living on dead flesh (p. 229.5).
A meat diet changes the disposition and strengthens animalism. We are composed of what we eat, and eating much flesh will diminish intellectual activity. Students would accomplish much more in their studies if they never tasted meat. When the animal part of the human agent is strengthened by meat eating, the intellectual powers diminish proportionately (p. 234.5).
The intellectual, the moral, and the physical powers are depreciated by the habitual use of flesh meats. Meat eating deranges the system, beclouds the intellect, and blunts the moral sensibilities. We say to you, dear brother and sister, your safest course is to let meat alone (p 231.8).
Those who have received instruction regarding the evils of the use of flesh foods, tea and coffee, and rich and unhealthful food preparations, and who are determined to make a covenant with God by sacrifice, will not continue to indulge their appetite for food that they know to be unhealthful. God demands that the appetites be cleansed, and that self-denial be practiced in regard to those things which are not good. This is a work that will have to be done before His people can stand before Him a perfect people (p. 233.5).
The great end for which Christ endured that long fast in the wilderness was to teach us the necessity of self-denial and temperance. This work should commence at our tables and should be strictly carried out in all the concerns of life. The Redeemer of the world came from heaven to help man in his weakness, that, in the power which Jesus came to bring him, he might become strong to overcome appetite and passion, and might be victor on every point (p. 226.6).
It is not the purpose of Life Assurance Ministries to insist that anyone eat meat. Our purpose in reporting these things is to expose the underlying, often-overlooked fact that Ellen White wrote counsels which she claimed to have received from God—and they are patently untrue. In fact, Adventism’s insistence upon the benefits of vegetarianism and veganism are increasingly becoming controversial as new studies are being published.
Moreover, Adventists have long hidden behind an argument that says, essentially, that just because a person can’t easily “prove” that Ellen White is right, her counsels are from God and therefore are truth for our time. In fact, an Adventist close to me has stated that Jesus ate fish because He didn’t have the “health message” yet.
For Adventists, the facts that Jesus declared all food clean (Mk. 7:19) and that Peter’s vision in Acts 10 reiterated that God has declared all foods (and people) clean—these details are irrelevant in the light of Ellen White’s “present truth” that God now asks His people not to eat meat. In other words, Ellen White’s counsels are later and more up-to-date than the Bible’s counsel. Moreover, this reasoning reveals that Adventism’s view of Jesus is that He is less than almighty God. If the health message was going to trump His declarations, that development means that Jesus does not have the godly attribute of omniscience.
Furthermore, the Adventist insistence upon vegetarianism as the means of having mental power and spiritual strength underscores their belief that they ARE their bodies. For an Adventist, a person is the total of his or her physical and mental health, and one’s spiritual strength flows out of clear thinking and healthful living.
This physical understanding of human nature denies the biblical reality that “we” leave our mortal tents and go to be with the Lord when we die in Christ (2 Cor. 5:1-9).
In short, the Adventist view of the material nature of man depends upon people’s adherence to their “health message”. Since Ellen White wrote that Jesus’ wilderness temptation was for the purpose of teaching us to practice self-denial and temperance, vegetarianism and denial of tempting foods is at the foundation of spirituality. If we, like Jesus, learn to say “No!” to foods—including the “present truth” that meat is condemned—we can become victors on every other point of temptation.
The Snopes article demonstrating that the supposed link between vegetarianism and longevity is “unproven” may merely be interesting to the general population. To Adventism, however, this statement calls into question the reliability of their health studies. It demonstrates that their often-invisible foundation, Ellen White, has led thousands of people astray and has given them the false hope that they can control not only the length of their lives but also their fitness for heaven by the food they eat.