Objective: Examine characteristics of current and former adolescent and young adult vegetarians and investigate the relationships between vegetarianism, weight, dietary intake, and weight-control behaviors.
Design: Cross-sectional analysis using data from a population-based study in Minnesota (Project EAT-II: Eating Among Teens).
Setting: Participants completed a mailed survey and food frequency questionnaire in 2004.
Participants: Males and females (n=2,516), ages 15-23 years.
Main outcome measures: Weight status, dietary intake (fruit, vegetables, fat, calories), unhealthful weight-control behaviors.
Analysis: Multiple regression models controlling for socioeconomic status and sex were used to test for significant differences between current, former, and never vegetarians within the younger and older cohort.
Results: Participants were identified as current (4.3%), former (10.8%), and never (84.9%) vegetarians. Current vegetarians in the younger and older cohorts had healthier dietary intakes than nonvegetarians with regard to fruits, vegetables, and fat. Among young adults, current vegetarians were less likely than never vegetarians to be overweight or obese. Adolescent and young adult current vegetarians were more likely to report binge eating with loss of control when compared to nonvegetarians. Among adolescents, former vegetarians were more likely than never vegetarians to engage in extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors. Among young adults, former vegetarians were more likely than current and never vegetarians to engage in extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors.
Conclusions and implications: Adolescent and young adult vegetarians may experience the health benefits associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake and young adults may experience the added benefit of decreased risk for overweight and obesity. However, current vegetarians may be at increased risk for binge eating with loss of control, while former vegetarians may be at increased risk for extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors. It would be beneficial for clinicians to inquire about current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors.