For nearly 140 years, Seventh-day Adventists have been encouraged to avoid meat and emphasize fruits, vegetables, and nuts in their diets. One rationale for this has been that such a diet promotes better health. There have been vegetarians, some very prominent, for thousands of years. Until the nineteenth century, however, improved health was an uncommon motivation. More typically, the driving force was animal rights or the perceived virtue of an ascetic lifestyle in certain other religious groups.
John Wesley, Sylvester Graham, William Alcott, and Russell Trall (Barkas, 1975; Numbers, 1992; Whorton, 1994) are among the American reformers who 150 to 200 years ago became convinced that a vegetarian way of life promoted health. Adventists joined this mix in 1863, and a health message continues today to be an important part of their tradition. However, most people now demand scientific evidence, rather than faith alone, as a criterion for action.
The famous Framingham Study was launched in 1948, and within 10 years an extensive study of the health of California Adventists also got under way with the aid of federal funding. By subjecting their health experiences to scientific scrutiny, Adventists in theory faced the possibility that research evidence would not support their claims. This has not been the case, although research results may suggest minor changes in the Adventist positions.
Almost by definition, a religious group gives credence to subjectivity and to claims that can be neither proved nor disproved. In studies of Adventists over the years, this interface with the supposedly objective methods of epidemiologic research has created an interesting tension. Fortunately, as a group, Adventists have placed great emphasis on education and traditional health care. They own and run many highly regarded medical centers throughout the United States and also overseas. Thus, for many