Since the 1860s when the church began, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church. Adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism and expects adherence to the kosher laws in Leviticus 11. Obedience to these laws means abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean". The church discourages its members from the use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs (compare Christianity and alcohol). In addition, some Adventists avoid coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages containing caffeine.
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The pioneers of the Adventist Church had much to do with the common acceptance of breakfast cereals into the Western diet, and the "modern commercial concept of cereal food" originated among Adventists. John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early founders of Adventist health work. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg's by his brother William. In both Australia and New Zealand, the church-owned Sanitarium Health Food Company is a leading manufacturer of health and vegetarian-related products, most prominently Weet-Bix.
Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists' social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan. Since Dan Buettner's 2005 National Geographic story about Adventist longevity, his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, named Loma Linda, California a "blue zone" because of the large concentration of Seventh-day Adventists. He cites the Adventist emphasis on health, diet, and Sabbath-keeping as primary factors for Adventist longevity.
An estimated 35% of Adventists practice vegetarianism
, according to a 2002 worldwide survey of local church leaders.
Adventists' clean lifestyles were recognized by the U.S. military in 1954 when 2,200 Adventists volunteered for Operation Whitecoat to be human test subjects for a range of diseases the effects of which were still unknown:
The first task for the scientists was to find people willing to be infected by pathogens that could make them very sick. They found them in the followers of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Although willing to serve their country when drafted, the Adventists refused to bear arms. As a result many of them became medics. Now the U.S. was offering recruits an opportunity to help in a different manner: to volunteer for biological tests as a way of satisfying their military obligations. When contacted in late 1954, the Adventist hierarchy readily agreed to this plan. For Camp Detrick scientists, church members were a model test population, since most of them were in excellent health and they neither drank, smoked, nor used caffeine. From the perspective of the volunteers, the tests gave them a way to fulfill their patriotic duty while remaining true to their beliefs.