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August 1997

Adolescent VegetariansA Behavioral Profile of a School-Based Population in Minnesota

Author Affiliations

From the Divisions of Epidemiology (Drs Neumark-Sztainer and Story), and Health Management and Policy (Dr Resnick), School of Public Health, and General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics (Drs Resnick and Blum), University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151(8):833-838. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170450083014

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