1,150 Adventists Descend on Geneva for Major Health Conference
More than 1,000 leading Adventists gathered on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, for a weeklong conference that aims to create a community health center in every Seventh-day Adventist church around the world.
The conference, which opens Tuesday with plenary speeches by Anselm Hennis, a senior official with the Pan-American Health Organization, and world church President Ted N.C. Wilson, will prepare the 1,150 attendees to share information on how to live longer and healthier lives with their communities back home, said organizer Peter Landless.
“We want to see every church as a community health center, with every member being a health promoter and embracing our amazing health message in their own lives,” said Landless, head of the church’s Health Ministries department.
With the information provided at the conference, every Adventist church could ultimately open a fitness club and offer programs on stress management, diabetes and how to stop smoking, among others, Landless said in a Skype interview.
The conference, titled “Non-Communicable Diseases: Lifelong Lifestyle and Prevention, Accessible to All,” is the second of its kind after an inaugural forum was held in Geneva in 2009. The gathering is the product of a joint effort between the church and the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization to improve the quality of millions of lives.
Non-communicable diseases — which cannot be passed from person to person and include heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes — kill more than 36 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization. The diseases are largely preventable, with their roots in tobacco, alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet.
This is where the Adventist church has an opportunity to share its 150-year-old teachings about a healthy diet and lifestyle to people both in and out of the church, Landless said.
“It was not only given so we could live longer; then we would just be longer living sinners,” Landless said. Adventist church co-founder “Ellen White made it clear that this [health message] was to make us fit for service.”
He said an Adventist living a healthy lifestyle was the best possible example to his or her neighbors.
Hennis, director of the department of non-communicable diseases and mental health at the Pan-American Health Organization, will kick off the conference at the University of Geneva with a keynote speech titled “Non-Communicable Diseases: Our Challenge and Opportunity” on Tuesday morning.
Among the other highlights will be a much-anticipated update from Gary Fraser on his groundbreaking Adventist Health Study 2; the presentation of a brand-new stop-smoking program called Breathe-Free 2.0; and a chance to meet U.S. President Barack Obama’s former physician Jeffrey Kuhlman, who after his 2009-2013 stint now works as a senior vice president at Adventist-operated Florida Hospital. Director Martin Doblmeier will present his documentary film The Adventists 2 on Wednesday evening.
Claus Nybo, president of LifeStyleTV, a private, Adventist-operated channel based in Sweden, said he was particularly eager to hear the latest scientific research on healthy lifestyles and the newest Adventist outreach programs.
“I am hoping we can use some of this for new TV productions,” he said in an interview Monday aboard an SAS airline flight from Copenhagen to Geneva. He and his wife, Theresa, unexpectedly sat behind an Adventist Review reporter on the flight.
Nybo said his other big goal was to network with health professionals.
Theresa Nybo, scheduling director and producer at LifeStyleTV, echoed her husband. “I’m hoping to be able to network with a lot of people and to be able to gain some more knowledge, to see what other interesting scientific things are out there,” she said.
With it comes to networking, Claus and Theresa Nybo will probably not be disappointed. Landless identified networking as one of his priorities for the conference, and the list of 1,150 registered participants is packed with top-notch professionals and health-focused individuals from the church.
Demand to attend the conference was so high that organizers were forced to close registration six weeks early. Some 900 people had been expected after 750 attended the first conference in 2009, but demand exceeded 1,500, Landless said.