The Amish: Clean living can lead to a healthier life


How do cancer rates in the Amish community compare to cancer rates in the rest of the population? A geneticist at the Ohio University set out to answer that question.

Dr. Judith Westman is a geneticist and division director of Human Genetics at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James). She conducted an 8-year study on 24 different types of cancer within the Amish community. She went door-to-door and documented cancer case by case.

What she found surprised her. Watch the video:

She was expecting to find pockets of increased cancer, as intermarriage within this relatively small population could increase incidence of cancer-related gene mutations. But she quickly found out that the Amish had lower cancer rates overall and did not have a strongly inherited susceptibility to cancer.

In fact, the Amish cancer rate was 40% lower than the rest of the population in Ohio. Tobacco-related cancer was strikingly lower in the Amish, around 63% lower than the rest of the population. This is due to their clean lifestyle that discourages tobacco and alcohol use. But, Westman says that other types of cancer were significantly lower as well in the Amish population.


Lancaster County Amish

She said that she witnessed almost no occurrences of cervical cancer, which may be due to their monogamous relationships and low sexual promiscuity rates. The Amish might be a little overweight from a BMI perspective, but men and women are active and hard workers well into their later years which may be a helpful factor for health. Despite the fact many Amish make their living working outdoors where they are exposed harmful UV rays, they have a lower rate for skin cancer. They typically cover themselves while working in the sun by wearing wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts for skin protection.

Westman wants to explore other reasons the Amish are not commonly-diagnosed with cancer. She’s curious to see if there’s some sort of genetic protection that the Amish have.

WATCH: To learn more about the Amish, tune into “The Amish,” a special AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary, written and directed by David Belton and produced by Callie T. Wiser.

With unprecedented access to the Amish built on patience and hard-won trust, the film is the first to deeply penetrate and explore this profoundly attention-averse group and includes the voices of those close to the murdered schoolgirls.

Filmed over the course of a year, The Amish answers many questions Americans have about this insular religious community. Their intense faith and strict adherence to 300-year-old traditions have by turn captivated and repelled, awed and irritated, inspired and confused America for more than a century. An extraordinarily intimate portrait of contemporary Amish faith and life, the film questions why and how the Amish, an insistently closed and communal culture, have thrived within one of the most open, individualistic societies on earth; explores how, despite their ingrained submissiveness, the Amish have successfully asserted themselves in resisting the encroachments of modern society and government; asks what our fascination with the Amish says about deep American values; and looks at what the future holds for a community whose existence is so rooted in the past.