Mormons 'Excited' by Health Study

TIMES RELIGION WRITER

Mormons, whose health codes direct them to abstain from alcohol, coffee, tea and smoking, are "very excited" about a UCLA study showing dramatically lower death rates from cancer and heart disease among their leaders, a church spokesman said Tuesday.

"It corroborates what they have preached for years," said Keith Atkinson, Mormon Church public communications director for California, which has as many as 750,000 members.

The strictures against tobacco, alcoholic beverages and hot, stimulating drinks are contained in the "Word of Wisdom," said to be a divine revelation in 1833 to Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church and based in Salt Lake City.

"I think many Mormons are going to feel that a prophecy at the end of the 'Word of Wisdom' is tangibly fulfilled in this study," said Atkinson at his office in the Mormon Temple complex in West Los Angeles. Observers of good health habits are promised wisdom, stamina and a full life span, he said.

"If phone calls to my office are an indication, church members are very excited about the results," he said.

The study by UCLA's James E. Enstrom, a non-Mormon, was conducted statewide among members of the church's Melchizedek Priesthood. Atkinson characterized the lay priests generally as men 45 and older who have been bishops or presidents or council members at the stake, or diocesan, level.

Not all Mormons are so personally disciplined, Atkinson acknowledged. The "Word of Wisdom," for instance, advises against eating large amounts of meat, but "not all Mormons live by that one," he said.

Soft drinks containing caffeine are not specifically prohibited in Mormon scripture, but church officials recommend avoiding them and they urge moderation in consuming carbonated drinks without caffeine.

"I know Mormons who drink a six-pack of cola a day," Atkinson said, "but they aren't the healthiest Mormons either."

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