Study links vegetarians to eating disorders

Researchers recommend more communication between vegetarians, physicians.

The most common reason adolescents gave for becoming vegetarians when surveyed by university researchers was to lose weight or keep from gaining it. At the end of the study, researchers found young vegetarians more prone to certain eating disorders than those who eat meat. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, the College of St. Benedict and St. JohnâÄôs University and the University of Texas used surveys to learn about the diets, weights and eating habits of 2,516 Minnesotans, ages 15 to 23. They discovered that vegetarians are more likely to binge eat and lose control of their eating than non-vegetarians. Despite their tendency toward irregular eating patterns, the researchers found vegetarians to be healthier with respect to fruit and vegetable intake. Given their generally healthy diets, vegetarians are at a decreased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and some cancers, according to the study, published in the April edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association . With their results, the researchers hope to raise awareness of vegetarianism as a possible marker for eating disorders, while still acknowledging its potential to be a healthy diet plan, epidemiology professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer , a co-author of the study, said. âÄúIt can be a very, very healthy way to eat, as long as people are doing it correctly,âÄù she said. âÄúGetting the correct intake and not using it as a way to excessively restrict calories.âÄù Participants in the study were divided into two cohorts: adolescents ages 15 to 18 and young adults ages 19 to 23. Among both cohorts, there was a higher rate of binge eating with loss of control in current vegetarians compared to those who had never been vegetarians, according to the study. In addition, about 20 percent of current and former adolescent vegetarians and nearly 27 percent of former young adult vegetarians reported having engaged in one or more extreme weight-control behaviors in the previous year, such as taking diet pills, vomiting and using laxatives or diuretics. Casey Nielsen, sociology junior and officer for the Compassionate Action for Animals , is a vegan, but said she hasnâÄôt heard of anything like this. âÄúI think it really depends on the person,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôm really surprised by this study because I donâÄôt think it would matter that someone is vegetarian or vegan. It would depend on the person, no matter what theyâÄôre eating.âÄù Nielsen said sheâÄôs afraid the study will give people the wrong idea about vegetarianism, but hopes those considering the diet will do more research. Theater sophomore Carisa Anderson , also a vegan and Compassionate Action for Animals officer, agreed with Nielsen. âÄúI think itâÄôs just as likely for anyone to have an eating disorder,âÄù she said. Health problems can occur when people begin a vegetarian regime without doing the research to have a healthy, balanced diet, Anderson said. âÄúBut if youâÄôre informed when you make the switch to being a vegan or vegetarian, then itâÄôs a perfectly healthy lifestyle.âÄù