The Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study seeks to explain why research from the 1970s showed that Mormons generally have lower rates of heart disease compared to the United States national average.
Dr. Benjamin D. Horne, the doctor who presented the findings at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2007 conference in Florida last month, wanted to verify that Mormons did have lower heart disease death rates, and then discover what caused the decrease.
"There had been a lot of assumptions since the 70s that the reason for the difference was because of the Latter-day Saints' proscribed use of tobacco and smoking," Dr. Horne said.
Mormons follow a health code which explains the importance of eating healthy foods and what addictive substances to avoid.
Dr. Horne examined the Church practice of fasting and concluded that it was a likely a cause for the decrease in heart disease deaths among Mormons.
"This initial study provided some evidence of a medical benefit to regular fasting," Dr. Horne acknowledged, "though additional research and clinical trials are necessary to confirm the results."
Church members are encouraged to fast two consecutive meals, refraining from food and drink, usually on the first Sunday of each month. The money which would have been used to purchase those meals is donated to help the poor--a practice referred to as fast offerings.
"Every dollar given to the local leaders as a fast offering goes to assist the poor," explained Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve. "When donations exceed local needs, they are passed along to fulfill the needs elsewhere."
Concern for others becomes another reason for fasting. Individuals with serious illnesses often become the focus of a fasting period. Mormons seek help with personal decisions or health problems by applying the principle of fasting coupled with prayer.
Photo caption: Funds known as fast offerings support significant Mormon welfare efforts, like these at the Bakery on Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. Now it appears that fasting may have health benefits, too.