ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) — Vegetarians may have a lower BMI and drink alcohol sparingly, but vegetarian diets are tied to generally poorer health, poorer quality of life and a higher need for health care than their meat-eating counterparts.

A new study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria finds that vegetarians are more physically active, drink less alcohol and smoke less tobacco than those who consume meat in their diets. Vegetarians also have a higher socioeconomic status and a lower body mass index. But the vegetarian diet — characterized by a low consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products — carries elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health disorders.

Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer.

The cross-sectional study from Austrian Health Interview Survey data and published in PLos One examined participants dietary habits, demographic characteristics and general lifestyle differences.

The most significant dietary habit difference between meat-eaters and vegetarians concerned their BMI and alcohol consumption – with both being higher for those who consume meat.

Many past studies have instead put an emphasis on the health risks associated with red meat and carnivorous diets, but this study points the other dietary direction. However, the researchers do caution that continuing studies will be needed to substantiate some of the rather broad dietary distinctions, associations presented in this current research.

Overall, vegetarians were found to be in a poorer state of health compared to other dietary groups. Vegetarians reported higher levels of impairment from disorders, chronic diseases, and “suffer significantly more often from anxiety/depression.”

Subjects who consumed lower amounts of animal fat were also linked to poor health care practices, such as avoidance of vaccinations and a lack of preventive care.

Chronic problems associated with vegetarians and people eating carnivorous diets rich in fruits and vegetables were linked to more frequent visits to doctors, which the study authors suggest requires public health programs to reduce the health risk due to their nutritional factors.

The researchers conclude: “Our study has shown that Austrian adults who consume a vegetarian diet are less healthy (in terms of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), have a lower quality of life, and also require more medical treatment.”

“Therefore, a continued strong public health program for Austria is required in order to reduce the health risk due to nutritional factors.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases for all dietary groups. A 2009 study from the CDC found that about 1 in 200 young Americans, or 367,000 US children, are vegetarians.

— Benjamin Fearnow


Comments (169)
  1. Very surprising as only a whole food plant based diet is able to reverse heart disease, hypertension and diabetes 2. If it reverses major diseases, isn’t it because it is a healthy diet to be on?

    1. “Only” a plant based diet will reverse major diseases? It’s healthy to eat more vegetables and fruits, yes. When you say the word “only”, I know it can’t be true. I know from my own personal experience that isn’t the only way to reverse major diseases.

      This is what I found, and I’ve also read information written by a doctor which stated that vegetarians and vegans are initially healthier because of increasing fruits and vegetables in their diets. In the long run though, they will be more unhealthy. Also, there are no civilizations known who have maintained themselves with this vegetarian type diet.

      “Researchers matched 1320 subjects according to their age, sex, and socioeconomic status. These included 330 vegetarians, 330 who ate meat but still consumed a lot of fruit and veg, 300 regular eaters who ate less meat, and 330 heavy meat-eaters.

      “Results indicated that despite the vegetarians drinking less alcohol and having lower BMI, they were still in worse physical and mental condition than their meat-eating counterparts. Subjects who ate less meat were also found to have adverse health habits, such as avoiding going to the doctors.”

  2. Jodi says:

    I use to eat vegetarian and slowly reduced meat consumption and I felt my absolute worst. I tried that for years. So I finally decided to do the complete opposite and went to a ketogenic low carb diet eating meat every day. I lowered my cholesterol for the first time in years, corrected my blood sugar and my fibromyalgia pain is greatly reduced, and lost 42lbs!! My heart palpitations are also in remission!! I wanted to stop eating animals because of ethical reasons but it turns out that eating them has greatly improved my health.

    1. Very surprising as only a whole food plant based diet is able to reverse heart disease, hypertension and diabetes 2. If it reverses major diseases, isn’t it because it is a healthy diet to be on?

  3. Are you kidding me? What kind of journalism is this? A 3 year old study published in a pay-to-publish “online Journal” that admits””papers are not to be excluded on the basis of lack of perceived importance or adherence to a scientific field.” There is so much credible evidence and real science on the other side– maybe take a look at that?

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