Vegetarians may live longer — but not because they are vegetarian

Vegetarians may live longer, but not necessarily because they have given up meat, according to a study in Preventive Medicine.

The researchers looked at data from 243,096 adults over the age of 45, with an average age of 62, living in New South Wales in Australia. They found no significant difference in all-cause mortality between omnivores and vegetarians.

Six years later 16,836 participants had died, of which 80 were vegetarians. Having adjusted for other contributory factors, no significant difference was found in longevity between meat eaters and those with a mostly plant-based diet.

The researchers say that one possible explanation for their finding is recent changes in the average vegetarian’s consumption. As plant-based diets become more popular, more vegetarian junk food has become available, bringing vegetarianism more in line with a ‘normal’ diet.

An earlier study suggested that vegetarians and vegans suffer socially. Meat eaters, who make up a significant majority of the population, evaluated vegetarians and vegans more negatively than other common targets of prejudice. ‘Strikingly, only drug addicts were evaluated more negatively than vegetarians and vegans,’ the authors wrote.

Instant analysis
As noted by the authors, a vegetarian diet is believed to have health benefits, reducing risks of type-2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity. This study was the first to compare different categories of diet according to how often one eats meat — that is, either never or less than once a week. Vegetarians who ate fish were a separate category and regular meat eaters another.

Diet status was confirmed using a questionnaire which, like patient diaries, are notoriously inaccurate and can also change over time. Furthermore, adults over 45 may have already suffered the harms of poor diets earlier in life, the influence of which will not be captured.

The mean age of the participants was 62.3 years and the follow-up surprisingly short at only six years, so we wouldn’t expect most of the participants to die so soon. The study also didn’t look at how long participants had been vegetarian for, or if, indeed, they actually were vegetarian, by assessing their diet. It didn’t look at the nutritional components of their diet — for example, a vegan who just ate crisps and drank fizzy pop versus an omnivore who ate meat sparingly but with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

After adjusting for possible confounders — in particular, vegetarians were shown to have healthier lifestyles — the researchers concluded that there was no significant difference in mortality between those who ate meat and those who didn’t. No significant difference existed between any of the diet categories.

This may reflect the fact that meat eaters now have a more healthy, balanced diet, or perhaps the vegetarians have become less healthy, with more soy-based, high-sugar and processed foods.

This study supports other work suggesting that the link between vegetarianism and better health is not as clear-cut as it once seemed to be. Now we need studies that investigate why.
Research score: 4/5

  • plainsdrifter

    Most vegetarians need a bloody good steak and kidney pie plus broccoli and spuds.

    • Constantin Philippou

      And u need to watch earthlings on YouTube, since ur such a big man with big cohones..

  • I used to have an allotment and my neighbour was a rather feeble vegan guy. He used to sit on the ground, limp-wristedly digging with a trowel by way of turning it over. Having just dug a bed to twice the depth he was doing at about four times the speed, with my digging hoe, an excellent tool called an Azada, I noticed him looking at my progress with something akin to envy, I suggested that he needed a few good meat pies and he’d be able to do the same.$_57.JPG?set_id=8800005007

  • Lee Killon

    A lot of professional athletes are vegan these days and thriving. I am a vegan myself and I am fit, healthy and strong but I’m not a pro athlete. It’s nonsense the people who are commenting on these posts that vegans are weak and feeble. Maybe some people are but so are many meat eaters, in fact most meat eaters I know are heavily over weight due to probably eating too many steak and kidney pies.

    • Jīvaka Komarabhacca

      You’re very likely a man, below the age of 50 – who doesn’t menstruate, gestate, or lactate – and this cannot really know what it means to suffer from the same kind of loss or deficiency of bodily tissues. Despite what you say, there is very good evidence that vegans (not lacto-ovo) suffer from an increased risk of weight loss, premenstrual syndrome, infertility,
      impaired bone density, bone fracture, dental problems, and
      immunodeficiency. A vegan diet is especially problematic and even
      dangerous in pregnant or lactating mothers as well as young children,
      increasing the risk of anemia, neurological disorders, and developmental

      • Jīvaka Komarabhacca

        Btw, let’s not talk about all the old vegan males or athletes who are so few that they are the outliers, the exception, and not the reality for most. Exceptions exist with every rule but nobody suggests smoking cigars and drinking whiskey is sustainable despite the fact that there are few centenarians that seem get away with it.

    • Lee Killon

      Hi. I totally respect your opinion but I have to disagree.

      Health authorities regard well-planned vegan diets as safe and adequate for people at all stages of the life-cycle, including those with unique nutritional needs, such as athletes. Furthermore, research has confirmed that vegan diets protect against many chronic diseases and are remarkably effective in treating these conditions.

      When I used to eat meat I ended up with gout and also I had a fracture that would never fully heal. Now I’ve been vegan for a few years the gout has cleared and my previous problems with my broken foot have now resolved itself. My rheumatologist recommended I choose a veggy or even better a vegan diet and it’s worked. I think I’ll take advice from a health care professional and not just a member of joe public.

      I understand you will probably disagree but that is my experience.

      Furthermore, while i am not a lactating, menstrating woman my wife is also vegan and perfectly healthy. Any diet, if not done properly, can cause health issues.

  • Laura Friis West

    Oh look, stupid comments on an article about vegetarianism! I’m utterly shocked!

  • Callipygian

    Vegans are putting a millstone around their own necks — and as the article suggests, compensate for the terrible lack of resources by soying and sugaring-up their menus. I wouldn’t be vegan for anything: not even eggs! No cheese or sour cream! Crazy.

  • Laura J

    I tried once to be vegan but I need the meat… so semi vegetarian!