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Andrew McChesney

Editor, Adventist Mission

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6.5 Notable Facts From the Geneva Health Conference

As you may imagine, a major conference packed with Adventist leaders and health professionals is bound to produce a mind-numbing array of statistics.

The ongoing Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle is no exception.

But many of the 1,150 participants at the weeklong conference in Geneva, Switzerland, seemed to find the presentations largely interesting, despite the occasional flurry of facts that made some scratch their heads.

Here are 6.5 notable facts that we learned this week.

1. All Americans may be fat one day.

Photo credit: Walter Siegmund / Wikicommons

A senior official from the Pan-American Health Organization surprised conference attendees on Tuesday by saying that Mexico has beaten the U.S. as the fattest country in the world.

But the U.S. could make a comeback, a doctor said Thursday.

Americans are eating so much today that every single one of them will be overweight by 2045, said Albert Reece, dean of the School of Medicine at University of Maryland.

That’s right. One hundred percent of Americans will be overweight in 30 years unless action is taken to reverse current eating habits.

But it gets worse. If nothing changes, Reece said, 100 percent of Americans will be obese by 2100.

2. Pizza is a vegetable.

Photo credit: cyclonebill / flickr

Who needs broccoli?

Kevin Jackson, president of Adventist-owned Sanitarium Foods in Australia, provoked looks of disbelief on Wednesday when he declared that the U.S. government regulates pizza as a vegetable.

Jackson got it right. But the story is a bit more nuanced.

U.S. lawmakers agreed several years ago that a single-serving pizza would count as a vegetable on the daily nutrition chart. The decision was made during a debate on how to make school lunches healthier.

The proof that pizza is a vegetable? Two tablespoons of tomato sauce slathered across the top of each crust.

3. Medicine could be worse.

Photo credit: Mpv_51 / Wikicommons

Having to swallow medicine may make us want to wrinkle our noses. But our lives are much better than those of our poor relatives just a century ago.

Gerald Winslow, vice president for mission and culture at Loma Linda University Medical Center, dug up several alarming examples of medicine from the turn of the last century. He showed photos of a bottle of a teething syrup for babies whose curing ingredients included alcohol and a drop of morphine, as well as a bottle Bayer aspirin standing beside a Bayer bottle labeled “Heroin.”

“The company made tens of millions of dollars on heroin,” Winslow said.

Suddenly modern-day cough syrup doesn’t seem so bad.

4. A calorie is not always a calorie.

Photo credit: Ignas Kukenys / Flickr

A highly stressed woman with poor dietary practices has a higher chance of suffering from poor health than a woman with low stress and the same diet, said David Williams, a professor of public health and sociology at Harvard University.

“We used to think that a calorie is just a calorie,” Williams said. “It’s not.”

Still, he said, Adventists needed to take a second look at their meals, including what they ate at church and in school.

“How do we promote healthy eating at every potluck and in every school cafeteria?” he said.

5. Some facts must remain unsaid.

Photo credit: "Icon-round-Question mark" by Selena Wilke / Wikicommons

Some fascinating news must remain untold at the request of Gary Fraser, principal investigator of the widely acclaimed Adventist Health Study 2 that shows the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Fraser, a professsor at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, told the conference from the start of his speech Wednesday that no one could share or republish his latest findings. Every slide he used in his PowerPoint presentation included the caveat: “Not for republication.”

Fraser apologetically explained that if his research were leaked, no scientific journal would publish the findings once they were finalized.

6. Negative emotions can cause mental disorders.

Photo credit: David Shankbone / Wikicommons

Nobody likes a Negative Nancy. But it seems that people with bad attitudes also develop mental disorders.

Shekhar Saxena, director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization, cautioned in a speech Thursday that mental disorders already account for 10 percent of all diseases and a third of all disabilities.

While research is ongoing into their causes, scientists have found that a positive mindset can keep the brain healthy.

“Negative emotions give rise to mental disorders,” Saxena said.

After the speech, conference host Peter Landless drew groans by opining from the lectern: “It’s almost a platitude to say we need to develop an attitude of gratitude.”

6.5. Exercise = baldness.

Peter Landless, left, and Delbert Baker at the health conference. Photo credit: ANN

If attendees took everything that Landless said at face value, they might leave the conference believing that exercise has a nasty side affect: baldness.

Delbert Baker, a vice president of the Adventist Church, drew applause on Wednesday by doing 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups onstage. Baker, with sweat glistening on his shaven head, then urged the audience to engage in regular exercise.

After Baker returned to his seat, Landless, whose own hairline is receding, declared from the lectern: “If you look at Dr. Baker and myself, you’ll see that the more exercise you get, the less hair you have.”

Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at Twitter: @ARMcChesney

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