Teenage vegetarians may be at greater
risk of eating disorders and suicide than their meat-eating
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
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.
of Adolescent Health December 2001;29:406-416