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

Surinder Baines*, Jennifer Powers, Wendy J. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)436-442
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Volume10
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes

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