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020917 Teens Who Eat Less Meat No Healthier

September 12, 2002

New York (Reuters Health) - Despite their healthy diets, vegetarian youth in Sweden and Norway do not practice other healthy lifestyle behaviors such as exercising more or using alcohol or tobacco less frequently than do their peers, according to recent study findings.

"Contrary to findings from other studies, adherence to a low-meat diet may not correlate with other health promotion practices among adolescents in Sweden and Norway," write lead study author Dr. Christel L. Larsson of Umea University in Sweden and her colleagues.

This finding is based on a survey of 2,041 Swedish and Norwegian 15- to 16-year-old students, 149 of whom said they were low-meat consumers -- a category that included vegetarians. Nearly three- quarters of the low-meat eaters were female.

Altogether, the low-meat eaters did not differ from their omnivore, or meat and vegetable eating, peers in their weight, body mass index or their opinion about their weight, Larsson and her colleagues report in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"This may indicate that concern about weight is not a major reason among adolescents for becoming low-meat consumers," the authors write.

Young women also did not seem to choose the low-meat diet for health-related reasons. In fact, being healthy seemed to be more important for the omnivores, who tended to be healthier than the low-meat eaters, study findings indicate.

Female low-meat eaters reported being sick more often than did their peers, while male low-meat eaters reported being tired and having headaches more often than their peers. Both the male and female low-meat eaters reported being depressed more often than the omnivores.

Low-meat eaters may be less healthy because their health was poorer initially, leading them to choose a vegetarian lifestyle for health reasons, or they may choose a low-meat diet for ethical reasons rather than health concerns, so they "do not have the same interest in practicing a healthy lifestyle as do more health-oriented vegetarians," the researchers speculate.

The researchers also found no difference in exercise habits, alcohol use or smoking practices between the low-meat eaters and the omnivores.

SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health 2002;31:190-198.


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