Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vegetarians Live Longer than Meat-Eaters

You may be shocked by the title of this post.  Have I changed my tune?  Am I finally giving up meat and going vegan??  Fear not, my friends, it's simply a catchy title I used to draw you in. But it is the topic of an article I read today entitled "Vegetarians have longer life expectancy than meat eaters, study finds".  The study they're referring to is one that followed 96,000 Canadian citizens, thousands of which were Seventh-day Adventists, who are vegetarians (supposedly).  The study isn't yet complete, but the preliminary results were reported at last weekend's Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition (FNCE) in Philadelphia.  Although I was in attendance at the conference, I did not see the presentation on this Seventh-day Adventist study.  I would have loved to be there, but instead I chose to see a lecture on food blogging, which, incidentally, I am doing right now.  Unfortunately I couldn't be everywhere at once... and I'm fresh out of time travel crystals.

So I was happy to come across this article today and find out what I missed.  Here's the lowdown... Seventh-day Adventist men lived on average 9.5 years longer than other men, and women lived on average 6.1 years longer than other women.  That's a pretty significant chunk of extra life.  But is it the vegetarian diet?  Or is is something else that keeps them truckin'?  Maybe we should learn a little more about these Adventists...

What is a Seventh-day Adventist?
According to Wikipedia, the Seventh-day Adventist church is a Protestant Christian denomination that really loves Saturday, among other things.  Adventists abstain from secular work on Saturdays, and spend their day resting, hanging with the family, going on hikes, doing charitable work, and just generally taking it easy.  Many Adventists will meet after sundown on Friday night for worship to begin their Sabbath (Saturday). 

Interestingly, though, according to Wikipedia's sources, only about 35% of Seventh-day Adventists actually eat a vegetarian diet... what gives?? 

Okay, so check this out.  There are several reasons for these long lifespans that have nothing to do with vegetarianism.

1.  The church strongly discourages smoking.
Smokers die.  And they die younger than everyone else.  The life expectancy for a smoker in the United States is about 64 years... 14 years younger than the national average (1).  Even former smokers who quit experience significant life extension.  One study found the following:  "Life expectancy among smokers who quit at age 35 exceeded that of continuing smokers by 6.9 to 8.5 years for men and 6.1 to 7.7 years for women."  Even quitting at age 65 adds years back onto your life (2).  But we don't have to stop there...

2.  The church discourages alcohol consumption.
To be fair, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with longevity (3).  But excessive alcohol consumption clearly is not.  In fact, according to this article, alcoholism takes 10-12 years off of one's life (4).  And in Canada, where this Adventist study is being conducted, about 7.7% of ALL deaths from ages 0-64 are due to alcohol (5).  No these Adventists aren't your typical Canadian folk.  I find it highly unlikely that any of these people were binge-drinking on Sabbath.

3.  They take Saturday off.
Stress is bad.  We all know it.  If you're spreading yourself too thin, there's never enough time to get things done, you go home feeling like all you have time to do is sleep and get up for the next day and do it all over again... that stuff will kill ya (6).  But not our Seventh-day Adventists.  Because on their seventh day, they relax.  They rest their mind and their body, and they do it because God said so... and God was right.  A day of de-stressing is no doubt beneficial for longevity, regardless of why you do it.

4.  A sense of community.
Seventh-day Adventists are typically active in their local church.  They may spend Friday night and part of their Saturday at church, where they worship, sing, and hang with their buddies.  They typically have strong family structure as well.  In short, they have strong ties to those around them, and that's an important factor in health and longevity.

Is the picture starting to look a little different at this point??

Soooo conclusion.  Despite that article's willingness to use the terms "Adventist" and "vegetarian" interchangeably as if they're the same thing, they're clearly not.  There is a lot more going on here than just a propensity to be vegetarian.  There are a whole host of other reasons why these people live long lives, and they have nothing to do with abstaining from meat.  No smoking, no drinking, rest on the weekends, and a strong sense of community.  That's more of a key to a long, healthy life than a vegetarian diet will ever be.

But I want to hear from you.  What are your thoughts on this article?  Agree or disagree? 


  1. That's it, I'm becoming a seventh day adventist. Cuz we all know...I looovee me my Saturdays ;-)

    Great post. I love blogs that tear apart correlational studies. I always feel as though Oz and his 20 twins are all revealed behind the curtain.

  2. Hey Brendan :) It's Steph, just creeping on your blog. I did go to the veggie lecture at FNCE and they actually acknowledged that most 7th days eat meat nowadays. They split them into groups (vegan, lacto-ovo veg, pescetarian, semi-veg, and meat eaters) and analyzed the data that way. They found that vegans have the lowest rates of most chronic diseases and live the longest. That being said, the 7th days that are vegans might abide by the religion more and therefore follow more of the church rules which are definitely geared toward health. Guess there's no way to know but I thought I'd add to the convo!

    1. Thanks for the input! Nicole mentioned something about that to me too, like the day after I wrote this. I guess that makes my whole point a little irrelevant. But that's okay, it's still a good discussion. I really wish I saw that lecture, I think I'm going to try and get the slides from the FNCE website!

  3. Here is the problem: they actually did the study within the Adventist community. They compared vegan Adventists to non vegan Adventists. The first study was done by comparing them to the general public and they got a lot of critics for that. This info is available on their study faq page.