Roughly, about 6% of the world’s population is vegetarian, a trend that is growing. Yet study after study shows that vegetarians are less healthy than their non-vegetarians peers. Why is this so? Surely a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables should make you healthier, not less healthy, so what’s going on?
In the light of extraordinary new research it is becoming apparent that most vegetarians are in fact less healthy than their non-vegetarian peers. By “peers” I mean people of a similar socio-economic and cultural background. Any valid comparison between vegetarians and non-vegetarians must compare apples with apples. For example, any study that compared an affluent health-conscious vegetarian from California with an impoverished meat eater from the slums of Calcutta is not likely to be meaningful.
Recent studies are clearly showing that compared to their non-vegetarians peers, vegetarians are more at risk of diseases such as infertility, cancer, heart disease, eating disorders, mental disease, and obesity.
Several studies have compared health-conscious vegetarians with health-conscious non-vegetarians from the same demographic (the same socio-economic, health-conscious cohort). In other words, scientists have compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians from similar backgrounds so as to validate the results and they have come up with some surprising conclusions.
For example, in a study of 76,000 people conducted over many years data from five studies were pooled into a very large collaborative analysis of mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians (Appleby PN, Key TJ, Thorogood M, Burr ML, Mann J. Mortality in British vegetarians. Public Health Nutr. 2002 Feb;5(1):29-36).
The Appleby Study compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians, adjusted for age, sex and smoking. The results for all-cause mortality showed no significant difference between vegetarians and their non-vegetarian peers. Many studies have shown that vegetarians live longer than the population at large, but the Appleby Study showed that this is not the case when you compare people within the same demographic. The study concluded that ‘Overall mortality was the same between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. But vegetarians had 2.2 times the death rate from mental and neurological diseases as non-vegetarians.’
Several studies have compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians within the same demographic and the research is clearly showing that vegetarians are at greater risk of heart disease, cancer, infertility and other diseases. As most studies have compared vegetarians with the population at large, this is not widely known; such studies provide a false picture because the population at large is not particularly health-conscious.
This begs the question: does this mean that eating animal products is good for health? The research on the whole says NO. So if vegetarians are less healthy than their non-vegetarian peers, what is the reason? Why is it that vegetarians are less healthy than their non-vegetarians peers in the same demographic? This is the vegetarian paradox.