Teenage vegetarians may be at greater risk of eating disorders and suicide than their meat-eating peers.
Their study found that adolescent vegetarians were more weight and body-conscious, more likely to have been told by a doctor that they had an eating disorder, and more likely to have tried a variety of healthy and unhealthy weight control practices including diet pills, laxatives and vomiting.
They were also more likely than their peers to have contemplated or attempted suicide.
Male vegetarians were even more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control practices such as vomiting after eating and weighing themselves frequently than non-vegetarian males.
The findings suggest that vegetarianism may serve as a red flag for eating and other problems related to self-image in teens.
The study indicates that adolescent vegetarians are more likely than adult vegetarians to be vegetarians for weight-control than for health reasons.
Because they are so interested in weight control, they engage in a variety of behaviors that are associated with trying to lose weight, both healthy and unhealthy.
The study found that nearly 6% of nearly 5,000 urban middle- and high-school students surveyed in Minnesota reported that they were vegetarian, or did not eat red meat. More than half of the vegetarians reported eating chicken, about 42% ate fish, more than three-quarters ate eggs and nearly 80% consumed dairy products.
Overall, semi-vegetarians, or those who ate some animal products, were more likely to engage in weight-control practices but less likely to exercise than restricted vegetarians. Semi-vegetarians may be using the diet as another form of weight control and may be a target for programs to prevent eating disorders.
All vegetarians weighed themselves more often and were more likely to say that they were dissatisfied with their bodies than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians were also more likely to report that they cared less about being healthy although they cared more about eating healthy foods.
The results of the study show that nearly three-quarters of vegetarians were females and nearly half were white.
The main reason for following a vegetarian diet was a desire to lose or maintain weight. Students also said they did not want to be involved in killing animals, they did not like the taste of meat, they thought vegetarianism was a healthier diet, and they wanted to help the environment.
Journal of Adolescent Health December 2001;29:406-416
This study does not really document some of the major dangers with choosing to be a vegetarian. You can view the list below for that information.
However, for those of you who have a teenage vegetarian or who are health care practitioners who treat these individuals, this is very important information.
One clearly needs to be sensitive to the fact that the teenager may have an eating disorder that would benefit from an effective intervention.
My current favorite recommendation for an intervention for an eating disorder would be EFT.
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