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Adolescent Vegetarians:  A Behavioral Profile of a School-Based Population in Minnesota

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD; Mary Story, PhD, RD; Michael D. Resnick, PhD; Robert W. Blum, MD, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151(8):833-838. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170450083014.
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Objective:  To compare a population-based sample of vegetarian and nonvegetarian adolescents regarding food intake patterns, disordered eating, and a range of other non–food-related health-compromising and health-promoting behaviors.

Design:  A cross-sectional school-based survey.

Setting:  Public schools within nonurban areas of Minnesota.

Participants:  Adolescents (n=107) aged 12 to 20 years who reported on the Minnesota Adolescent Health Survey that they follow a vegetarian diet and a comparison group of nonvegetarian youth (n=214) matched for sex, age, and ethnicity. The percentage of self-identified vegetarians in the study population was relatively low (0.6%); most of the vegetarians were female (81%).

Main Outcome Measures:  Food intake patterns, disordered eating (frequent dieting, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, and laxative use), health-compromising behaviors (tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use and suicide attempts), and health-promoting behaviors (seat belt use, physical activity, and brushing teeth regularly).

Results:  Vegetarian adolescents were twice as likely to consume fruits and vegetables (P<.001), one third as likely to consume sweets (P<.001), and one fourth as likely to eat salty snack foods (P<.001) more than once a day compared with nonvegetarians. Vegetarians were almost twice as likely to report frequent dieting (P<.001), 4 times as likely to report intentional vomiting (P<.001), and 8 times as likely to report laxative use (P<.001) than nonvegetarians. Overall, associations with other health-compromising and health-promoting behaviors were not apparent.

Conclusions:  A vegetarian diet may be beneficial because of increased fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased consumption of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar. However, adolescents following a vegetarian diet need to be screened for adequate food intake and potential disordered eating behaviors.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:833-838

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