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New Study Claims Link Between Vegetarianism and Eating Disorders

A new study has examined the motivation for becoming vegetarian in women. The figures suggest that a woman with a history of eating disorders is almost four and half times more likely to have been a vegetarian.

“The Inter-relationship between vegetarianism and eating disorders among females” was published in the August issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and has attracted a fair amount of media attention in the past two weeks. Is it a media-fuelled myth, or a genuine cause for concern?

The study’s abstract states that “compared with controls, individuals with an eating disorder history were considerably more likely to ever have been vegetarian (52% vs 12%), to be currently vegetarian (24% vs 6%), and to be primarily motivated by weight related reasons (42% vs 0%).”

Although the authors press that the “results shed light on the vegetarian-eating disorders relation and suggest intervention considerations for clinicians,” the study in fact indicates that some people who have a history of eating disorders have considered a vegetarian diet as a means of losing weight; this is not to suggest that vegetarians develop eating disorders, or that being vegetarian is a symptom of an eating disorder /a disorder itself.

Commentators have been fast to warn of the potential danger in misreading the study.  Miriam King at Veg Wire points out that many of those with eating disorders have tried a variety of diets and a low-meat/no-meat is just one of them. And Ginny Messina  criticises the poor definition of “vegetarian” as some subjects might have said they avoided eating meat but weren’t in fact vegetarian.

The aim of the study is admirable but unfortunately the facts have been spun in a deceptive way. What do you think?

Image Source: Gabriella Corrado/Flickr