This new study shows that vegetarians have worse health. Should we care?
Diet-related health findings have been all over the news lately, particularly a new study of 1,320 Austrians published in Nutrition and Health. The provocative paper spewed some pretty damning findings about vegetarians, including that they’re more likely to have cancer, food allergies, and anxiety or depression. Vegetarians also take fewer vaccines and have fewer preventative check-ups, researchers noted, before throwing down some major smack-talk:
Overall, our findings reveal that vegetarians report poorer health, follow medical treatment more frequently, have worse preventive health care practices, and have a lower quality of life.
Them’s fighting words!
To temper that a bit, the study also notes that vegetarians had the lowest BMI, and a recent review of 39 studies found that vegetarians have lower blood pressure. (And there’s, you know, all of the climate- and resource-related benefits.)
But the real message here is that this study shows correlation, not causation. No one can say for sure that going vegetarian will make you depressed, give you cancer, or kill you. As several Redditors suggest, maybe people with food allergies or cancer go vegetarian in an attempt to eat healthier (which would definitely skew the results).
Plus, the “veg” in “vegetarianism” doesn’t mean someone is eating lots of vegetables, only that she doesn’t eat meat. But French fries do not a healthy vegetarian make, and the study didn’t take that into account — carnivores were classified according to whether they ate a lot of fresh fruits and veggies or not, but vegetarians weren’t. Maybe it’s time we develop some catchy shorthand for “people who eat plant-based, nutrient-rich diets,” and then see if THAT is correlated with poor health. Until then, saying that kale-eaters are sicker is just bad science.
The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters, PLOS One.