Healthy eating education, daily exercise and cooking demonstrations were the focus of the fifth annual Wellness Camp at the Valley Vista Adventist Center near Huttonsville that wrapped up last week.
The 13-day camp, run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, provided vegetarian meals, two before and after blood tests, and a smoking cessation program. The camp's goal was to help participants end diabetes, lose weight, quit smoking and reverse depression.
"You get out of the program proportionate to what you are willing to invest," said Chris Hasse, program manager. "Total transformation? Yes, if you want that."
Wellness Camp attendees, from left, Angelina Reye and Beckie Berlin walk the hills of the 308-acre Valley Vista Adventist Center near Huttonsville.
The 308-acre mountain camp was staffed by health care professionals who volunteered their time providing health checks, giving health lectures, leading cardio exercise and cooking vegan meals.
"The philosopy of the church is maintain your health," said Daniel Morikone, camp director. "We treat the whole person by changing the lifestyle, and with exercise."
West Virginia had the country's highest obesity rate at 33.5 percent of its population in 2012, according to a Gallup-Healthways report. The state also has the highest percentage of adult diabetes in the nation, at 11.6 percent.
"West Virginia is usually number one in obesity, it goes back and forth with Mississippi," Morikone said.
A plant-based diet has been a core Adventist principle for 150 years. In fact, vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, according to a recent study of 73,308 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Vegetarians experienced 12 percent fewer deaths over a six-year period. However, cancer still struck vegetarians and meat-eaters at similar rates, according to the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association in January.
Researchers aren't sure why a plant-based diet seems to have a protective effect, but one reason could be the typical vegetarian diet, which tends to be higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat.
"The guests began their camp experience by setting out to walk 1 mile at the fastest pace they felt comfortable in doing," Morikone said. "They did this same walk after 10 days of a plant-based diet, plenty of water and exercise. The average results for those who were able to walk the whole mile were that they did it quicker by two minutes or about 10 percent faster."
Campgoer Beckie Berlin of Parkersburg had been wanting to try a vegan diet and the camp was the perfect opportunity.
"I'm a new person now," said Berlin. "The most amazing thing to me was not the weight I lost (10 pounds), but my cholesterol dropped 55 points." In addition to eating vegan, Berlin also gave up coffee.
"Seventh-day Adventists don't think you should drink caffeine," Berlin said. "Despite what we think about caffeine giving you energy, I have more energy than ever."
The 12 camp graduates had ailments ranging from addictions, depression, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and obesity. Average weight loss for 10 days was over 6 pounds. Average blood sugar drop was 14 points or 12 percent and average cholesterol drop was over 38 percent, according to Morikone.
Berlin, who retired from a DuPont chemical plant to attend the camp, now has plenty of time to bake bread and learn new recipes.
"I think I learned enough in two weeks to maintain my vegan diet, and I have the knowledge I need to stay on track," she said.