Vegetarian To Be, Or Not To Be?

Submitted by: Jerry Hall

Consuming more plant foods and fewer animal products may help individuals control their weight, according to a new study. Researchers examined the health records of more than 55,000 healthy women participating in the Swedish Mammography Cohort. They looked at the body mass index (BMI) of semi-vegetarians (who eat some meat, dairy, and eggs), lacto-vegetarians (who consume milk but not meat or eggs), vegans (who consume no animal products), and omnivores (who eat all foods).

BMI is used as a screening tool to identify possible weight problems for adults.

However, BMI is not a diagnostic tool. For example, a person may have a high BMI. However, to determine if excess weight is a health risk, a healthcare provider would need to perform further assessments. These assessments might include skinfold thickness measurements, evaluations of diet, physical activity, family history, and other appropriate health screenings.


Calculating BMI is one of the best methods for population assessment of overweight and obesity. Because calculation requires only height and weight, it is inexpensive and easy to use for clinicians and for the general public. The use of BMI allows people to compare their own weight status to that of the general population.

All the vegetarian women had a lower risk of being overweight or obese than did the omnivorous women. Specifically, the prevalence of overweight or obesity (BMI over 25) was 40 percent among omnivores, 29 percent among both semi-vegetarians and vegans, and 25 percent among lacto-vegetarians. All three vegetarian groups had about half the risk of overweight or obesity as omnivores.

The omnivorous women were significantly heavier than any of the three vegetarian groups and also had a significantly higher BMI. Even among the vegetarians who consume some animal products, our results suggest that self-identified vegetarians of any kind have a lower risk of overweight and obesity than do omnivorous women.

The study suggests that plant-based diets are inversely related to obesity. All the vegetarian groups had higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, and fiber and lower intakes of fat and protein.

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