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How does the health and well-being of young Australian vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women compare with non-vegetarians?

  • Surinder Baines (a1), Jennifer Powers (a2) and Wendy J Brown (a3)
Abstract
AbstractObjective

To compare the sociodemographic characteristics, health status and health service use of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

Design

In cross-sectional data analyses of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health in 2000, 9113 women (aged 22–27 years) were defined as non-vegetarians if they reported including red meat in their diet, as semi-vegetarians if they excluded red meat and as vegetarians if they excluded meat, poultry and fish from their diet.

Results

The estimated prevalence was 3% and 10% for vegetarian and semi-vegetarian young women. Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians and semi-vegetarians were more likely to live in urban areas and to not be married. Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians had lower body mass index (mean (95% confidence interval): 22.2 (21.7–22.7) and 23.0 (22.7–23.3) kg m− 2) than non-vegetarians (23.7 (23.6–23.8) kg m− 2) and tended to exercise more. Semi-vegetarians and vegetarians had poorer mental health, with 21–22% reporting depression compared with 15% of non-vegetarians (P < 0.001). Low iron levels and menstrual symptoms were also more common in both vegetarian groups. Vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women were more likely to consult alternative health practitioners and semi-vegetarians reported taking more prescription and non-prescription medications. Compared with non-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians were less likely and vegetarians much less likely to be taking the oral contraceptive pill.

Conclusion

The levels of physical activity and body mass indices of the vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women suggest they are healthier than non-vegetarians. However, the greater reports of menstrual problems and the poorer mental health of these young women may be of clinical significance.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Email Surinder.Baines@newcastle.edu.au
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Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
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