Research published yesterday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE found that vegetarians report poorer physical and mental health, higher use of medical care and lower quality of life than those who eat meat.
The study analyzed data from face-to-face interviews of 15,474 individuals through the Austrian Health Interview Survey, part of the European Health Interview Survey.
People who practiced strict veganism as well as those who included dairy products, eggs and fish in their diets were considered vegetarians for the purposes of the study.
According to the authors, previous studies have shown a vegetarian diet to be associated with a lower incidence of certain health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease, gallstones and stroke.
The typical vegetarian participant tended to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than a meat-eating person. However, the analysis found no difference in physical activity or smoking behavior among the groups. Vegetarians did tend to consume alcohol less frequently than meat eaters.
Significantly more vegetarians reported suffering from allergies, cancer, anxiety and depression than the other dietary groups, and they rated their overall health and quality of life lower. Participants with lower animal fat intakes generally reported worse health care practices.
Meat eaters were more likely to report urinary incontinence problems than vegetarians. The study found no differences in heart disease risk based among the various dietary habits, which were vegetarian, heavy meat eaters and meat eaters who also ate a lot of fruits and vegetables.
The study authors note that the analysis did not allow for whether some of the vegetarians already suffered from health problems before undertaking a vegetarian lifestyle. Based on the authors' introductory remarks, it appears they expected to find better health among vegetarians than among meat eaters, rather than worse. They caution that their study finds only an association between certain dietary behaviors and outcomes but not a causal relationship.