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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 13, 2023

No Amish kids get cancer, diabetes, autism? That’s Pants on Fire!

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  • Experts, studies and news coverage show that there are not "zero" Amish children diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and autism.

A headline shared on Facebook made an absolute — and absolutely false — claim:

"Zero Amish children diagnosed with cancer, diabetes or autism."

The headline came from an article on SlayNews, a site known for spreading misinformation. 

The article said a "comprehensive study has found that no Amish children have been diagnosed with chronic conditions that impact the rest of America." It also said Amish children "are strictly 100 percent unvaccinated," and cited high-profile people known for spreading vaccine misinformation.  

The Facebook post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

A medical expert on Amish people said children in that group are diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and autism. Studies have documented autism among Amish children. And news stories have covered cases of Amish children with cancer.

The Amish are a Christian group whose members live in North America. The term refers primarily to the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church, which originated in the late 17th century among followers of Jakob Ammann. About 370,000 Amish adults and children live in North America, including in 32 U.S. states. About two-thirds of American Amish live in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

The Amish are known for rejecting modern conveniences and technological innovation. This can mean forgoing cars, computers and televisions, for example.

Vaccination rates vary among Amish settlements and among types of vaccines, said University of Maryland genetic epidemiologist Braxton Mitchell, who for more than 25 years has studied the Amish population in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the largest U.S. Amish settlement.

Mitchell said childhood vaccines, which include shots for diphtheria, rotavirus, polio, tetanus and whooping cough, are more accepted among Amish people than COVID-19 vaccines. He said he knows of no studies that compare childhood vaccination rates among Amish and other populations. 

There is some evidence that some Amish families have lower rates of childhood vaccination. An April 2020 survey of Amish in northeast Ohio with about 400 respondents found that 59% did not vaccinate their children.

The Slay article linked to claims that Steve Kirsch, an entrepreneur and anti-COVID-19 vaccination activist, made during a June 9 Pennsylvania Senate "medical freedom panel." The panel was led by Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who lost a race for Pennsylvania governor in November.

Kirsch said Amish people are largely unvaccinated and added:

"We can’t find an autistic kid who was unvaccinated, it’s very, very rare ... You just don’t find any of these chronic diseases in the Amish," Kirsch said.

The "comprehensive study" mentioned in the Slay story seems to refer to a linked blog post about Kirsch’s claims that, in turn, linked to a vaccination survey. The study did not mention Amish people.

Mitchell said the claim is without merit.

"Cancer and diabetes are uncommon in kids, although they do occur in Amish," he said "Autism does occur in Amish," he said.

Mitchell said childhood diabetes is probably less common among the Amish, likely because Amish children are much more physically active than their non-Amish counterparts.

Mitchell said he knew of no studies on the prevalence of chronic diseases comparing Amish and non-Amish children. A 2020 study he co-authored found diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol lower among Amish adults than non-Amish adults.

Mitchell said autism has been diagnosed in the Lancaster population. There are no studies to show autism is less common among Amish children than in non-Amish children, he said.

Experts, studies and news coverage show that there are not "zero" Amish children diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and autism. We rate the claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Slay, "Zero Amish Children Diagnosed with Cancer, Diabetes or Autism," July 9, 2023, Steve Kirsch testimony (2:46:30), June 9, 2023

Health Feedback, "Claim that the Amish are healthier because they opt out of all vaccines is incorrect," Nov. 11, 2017

Snopes, "The Amish Don’t Get Autism?", Oct. 28, 2016

AAP Factcheck, "No, the Amish aren’t free from COVID and other diseases," Oct. 25, 2021, "2020 Pilot Survey Data Comparison," accessed July 12, 2023, The Vigilant Fox "Steve Kirsch: ‘We Can’t Find an Autistic Kid Who Was Unvaccinated’" post, June 29, 2023

Email, genetic epidemiologist Braxton Mitchell, vice chair for research, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, University of Maryland School of Medicine, July 12, 2023

Email, University of Missouri assistant teaching professor of applied social sciences Caroline Brock, whose specialties include researching the Amish, July 12, 2023

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