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The cognitive contexts of beliefs about the healthiness of meat

  • Emma Lea (a1) and Anthony Worsley (a2)

The overall aim of this study was to examine a variety of belief and demographic factors that are associated with the perception that meat is intrinsically unhealthy.


State-wide survey (written questionnaire) that included questions on meat and nutrition beliefs, perceived barriers and benefits of vegetarian diets, personal values, number of vegetarian friends and family members, and use and trust of health/nutrition/food information sources.


South Australia.


Six hundred and one randomly selected South Australians and 106 non-randomly selected vegetarians and semi-vegetarians.


For all respondents considered as a group, the most important predictors of the belief that meat is intrinsically unhealthy were the perceived benefits of vegetarian diets (all positive predictors). These included: (1) the perceived links between vegetarianism, peace and increased contentment; (2) animal welfare and environmental benefits; and (3) health benefits. There were differences between different dietary groups however. For non-vegetarians, social concerns about vegetarianism (positive) were most important, followed by health and non-health benefits (positive) of vegetarianism. Red meat appreciation was the strongest (positive) predictor for vegetarians, with health benefits of vegetarianism (positive) and education (negative predictor) also important.


The implications of the findings for health and other issues are discussed. Judgements about the healthiness of meat are likely to be related to moral and environmental beliefs and, for non-vegetarians, to social concerns about vegetarianism, in addition to health beliefs. These need to be considered if any attempts are made to influence meat consumption.

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