Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

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

Surinder Bainesa1 c1, Jennifer Powersa2 and Wendy J Browna3

a1 School of Health Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics, Box 38, Hunter Building, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales 2308, Australia

a2 Research Centre for Gender and Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

a3 School of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia

Abstract

Objective 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.

(Received January 05 2005)

(Accepted February 13 2006)

Correspondence

c1 *Corresponding author: Email Surinder.Baines@newcastle.edu.au

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