Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-Day Adventists and Other Vegetarians

By Gary E. Fraser | Go to book overview

14
Changing a Population's Diet:
A Behavioral View of the
Adventist Experience

HELEN HOPP-MARSHAK, KITI FREIER, AND GARY FRASER

Although Americans, on average, have made definite changes toward a more healthful diet over the last 20 to 30 years, these have been relatively modest, despite the strong media and governmental focus on diet and its health effects. Recently, for instance, the U.S. Surgeon General declared obesity to be a national epidemic. As described in Chapter 1, Adventists tend to make food choices that are quite different from those of their nonAdventist neighbors. Moreover, they began doing this many decades before there was any credible scientific evidence to demonstrate the benefits.

What made this behavioral change possible in a diverse and geographically dispersed group? Are there lessons here that may be helpful for others who wish to make similar changes? It is possible to find explanations for Adventists' success with dietary changes and maintenance that are based on theories from the behavioral sciences. While there are no data that directly address this question in regard to Adventists, research on similar issues in other study groups provide some likely explanations.

Different models are used to explain behavior or behavioral change. While these may emphasize different areas, they build on each other. Considering different models is important to see the different ways in which a type of behavior can be maintained or changed. According to a value system model, the religious beliefs of Adventists influence their lifestyle. A social influence model would explain that the subculture to which Adventists belong helps support and maintain the healthy lifestyle chosen by individuals. Figure 14–1 suggests determinants and pathways in both the initiation of new health-related behaviors and their maintenance. Both values and social influences are undoubtedly important in the initiation and maintenance of the Adventist lifestyle, which includes not only an emphasis on diet and physical activity but also the avoidance of any mind-altering or addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

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