Vegetarians may have a significantly lower risk of mortality than people who eat lots of meat, according to a study at the German Cancer Research Centre (DFKZ).
The study, which aimed to understand the impact of vegetarian nutrition and the connected lifestyle on the risk of mortality, included around 1900 participants. These were divided into vegans (who abstain not only from meat but also from other animal products such as eggs or dairy products), vegetarians (who consume eggs and dairy products but no fish or meat) and moderate vegetarians (occasional meat and fish eaters).
On comparison with the general population, the study revealed a significant increase in life expectancy for the study participants. For every 100 deaths in the general population, only 59 deaths were recorded for the monitored group. The difference is even greater for male vegetarians with only 52 deaths.
However, entirely abstaining from meat consumption does not appear to be the healthiest nutritional lifestyle. Comparison of the three categories suggests that those who occasionally consume meat have an even lower risk of mortality than the other groups. For every 100 deaths among vegans, there were 66 among vegetarians and 60 among occasional meat eaters.
In addition to nutrition the researchers also gathered information about other lifestyle factors, such as smoking or physical activity. As expected, the scientists recorded that the average risk of mortality increased by 70 per cent in smokers. Risk of mortality was reduced by a third for those with high or moderate levels of activity compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle.
The results of the study suggest that while a low level of meat consumption may have a desirable effect on life expectancy, it is a balanced lifestyle, both in terms of nutrition and activity that leads to longevity.
Full results of the study will be presented at the Congress of the German Nutrition Society on the 13 and 14 March 2003 in Potsdam.