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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)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2007

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


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.


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.


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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