The Healthiest Community in America?

What’s the longest-lived community in the US and where is it located?

Maybe in the bucolic countryside of Vermont? Or maybe in Utah with its concentration of teetotalers and non-smokers. Or how about Lake Wobegon, Minnesota? Believe it or not, it’s in the crowded, smoggy Los Angeles basin of southern California.

It’s the City of Loma Linda. Seventh Day Adventists form a high proportion of the residents of Loma Linda. Adventists typically adopt several healthy habits. These include not smoking, regular vigorous exercise, drinking little or no alcohol, eating lots of nuts, a vegetarian diet, and a supportive network of social connections. Few Adventists consume alcohol or smoke. These and other healthy habits likely account for the exceptional longevity in Loma Linda.

Researchers Gary Fraser and David Shavlik at Loma Linda University used data from the Adventist Health Study, which began in 1976. A total of 34,192 California Adventists were followed until 1988. Health-related data collected for body-mass index, meat and nut consumption, and physical activity. Nearly all study participants were nonsmokers. Adventist subjects had an extra 7.3 and 4.4 years of life expectancy for men and women, respectively. The sum of the expected contributions of high physical activity, frequent consumption of nuts, vegetarian status, and medium body-mass index would result in 9.7 and 10.4 extra years of life for men and women, respectively.

If a drug company developed a drug that would accomplish equally impressive reductions in the risk of dying with no side effects, the company would make billions of dollars. Yet adopting a suite of healthy lifestyle choices appears to interest few Americans. The study by Fraser and Shavlik didn’t investigate whether the healthy choices of the Adventists also led to reduced risk of chronic diseases. Abundant research, however, suggests that the healthy choices of the Adventists would also reduce their risk of non-fatal heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers. Plus, it’s likely that the typical Adventist postponed debilitating conditions until late in life. Thus, a longer life was likely a better life.

This study demonstrates the power of making healthy choices and turning them into healthy habits. Live longer and live better.

Fraser, GE and DJ Shavlik. 2001. Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Annals of Internal Medicine. 161:1645-1652.

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