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The Third International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition at Loma Linda, USA
IVU News 2-97

[IVU members attending the conference included Paul Appleby from the United Kingdom, Igor Bukovsky from Slovakia, Marcel Hebbelinck from Belgium and Riccardo Trespidi from Italy. The following report was produced by Paul Appleby.]

I was fortunate enough to be among the more than 600 delegates from many diverse countries, brought together by a shared interest in vegetarian nutrition. The Third International Conference on Vegetarian Nutrition, held in March 1997, featured 34 research presentations, 40 poster presentations and a number of workshops.

Situated some 60 miles (100 km) south of Los Angeles, the town of Loma Linda (meaning Beautiful Hill in Spanish) and the neighbouring city of San Bernardino are surrounded by mountains, just a short drive from the Palm Springs resort and the Joshua Tree National Park. The hot summers and mild winters of southern California have made the region famous for its orange groves, although sadly many of these have been destroyed to make way for building development. Nevertheless, there are many gardens with orange, grapefruit and lemon trees.

Loma Linda University specialises in the health sciences and its medical centre has achieved world fame for its pioneering work, especially in the field of infant-to-infant heart transplantation and high technology service-oriented medical care. The centre evolved from a sanitarium founded in 1905 by John Burden, a minister acting on the instructions of Ellen White, one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who advocated a vegetarian diet and wrote extensively on health matters. At the dedication service for the sanitarium, she said: Loma Linda is to be not only a sanitarium but an educational centre. Today the church operates more than 450 health care institutions and thousands of educational establishments world wide, including three universities.

One of the highlights of the conference was the unveiling of a food pyramid identifying whole grains and legumes as the basis of a vegetarian diet, followed by fruits and vegetables and smaller amounts of nuts and seeds. Dairy products and eggs were shown as optional and a vegan diet was regarded as compatible with good health, vegans being advised to include a reliable source of vitamin B12 in their diet. (see below)

Two presentations featured results of work conducted by myself and colleagues at the ICRF Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, UK. Dr Tim Key presented the results of a meta-analysis of mortality in five prospective studies of populations containing large numbers of vegetarians.

Two of these the Adventist Mortality Study and the Adventist Health Study are supervised by Dr. Gary Fraser at the School of Public Health, Loma Linda University. The Health Food Shoppers Study and the Oxford Vegetarian Study are run from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Oxford, and the Heidelberg Study is supervised by Dr. Jenny Chang-Claude in Germany.

Altogether, data were available for a total of 76,172 persons, including 27,808 vegetarians, of whom 8,330 died before the age of ninety after an average of 10.6 years of follow-up. After adjusting for age, sex, smoking habits and education, vegetarians were found to have a 25 per cent reduction in mortality from ischaemic heart disease (the most common cause of death in the western world) and a 9 per cent. lower all-cause mortality compared with non-vegetarians, both results being highly statistically significant.

There was no evidence, however, to suggest a lower mortality rate for colorectal, breast or prostate cancer (mortality ratios 1.00, 1.02 and 0.89 respectively for vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians) or, indeed, for any of the other common causes of death studied. In the second presentation arising from research conducted at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Margaret Thoroughgood presented the latest results from an analysis of mortality in the Oxford Vegetarian Study in which the effects of various dietary factors on ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality were investigated.

by Paul Appleby

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