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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   VegSource Interactive, Inc. | Jeff Nelson

Does Vegetarianism Mask 'Eating Disorder'
in Many Adolescents?

Dec 11, 2001 -- "Vegetarian Diet May Mask Eating Disorder in Teens" proclaims a recent headline from Yahoo. The story reports a study published in this month's Journal of Adolescent Health in which researchers looked at questionnaire data taken from close to 5,000 students in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, area.

Based on the questionnaire answers, the study authors make a number of sweeping conclusions about adolescent vegetarians.

Researchers conclude, for example, that teen vegetarians are more likely to have eating disorders, weight control issues, depression, and self image problems, than non-vegetarian kids.

In short, the study really makes it sound like teen vegetarians are a sorry group of confused, disaffected, anti-social pathetic losers.

Teen vegetarians look bad -- that is, until you look at the details of the study.

That's because the majority of "vegetarians" they report on aren't actually vegetarian at all.


The abstract and full text of the study is available online in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Examining the details of the study itself reveals that of the 215 "vegetarians" surveyed and reported on, 137 of them -- nearly 2/3rds of the group -- can regularly be scarfing down things like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chicken McNuggets, turkey dinners and Popeye's Fish and Chips.

The study isn't in fact reporting on "vegetarians," but primarily on kids who simply eshew animals on the hoof -- i.e., red meat -- but who do eat fish and/or chicken.

A mere 78 of the 215 "vegetarians" reported on in the study are actually vegetarians.

Looking at the data of actual vegetarian kids against the rest of the group, there are little or no statistically significant differences in most categories, except that the vegetarian kids score better than the non-veg kids in a few -- the opposite of what the researchers are trying to argue with the data.

What does this study show, then?

It shows that the researchers conducting the study are either stupid or intellectually dishonest.

Researchers merely took any kid who called herself a "vegetarian" -- even though the authors knew she wasn't really vegetarian -- and lumped that student with actual vegetarians for the purposes of drawing conclusions about "vegetarians."

The study is tantamount to taking people who smoke a few packs of cigarettes a week and mixing them with a smaller group of non-smokers, and saying "Based on evaluating these 'non-smokers' we can draw the following conclusions..."

It's dishonest, and the researchers should be ashamed of themselves, if they had any shame.

The only thing the study shows of any use is that there is a confusion among some adolescents -- who are confused about many things and have other problems -- about what it means to be a vegetarian. It shows that some kids with problems call themselves vegetarians when they aren't.

If one thing is suggested from this study, it's that information about healthy plant-based diets should be given to children at a young age. This will insure kids have the option to adopt a healthy diet early on and thus prevent many of the conditions that give rise to eating disorders. (Lifelong vegetarians rarely have weight or body-image problems.) It will also mean that should children at some point decide to go veg, they will have the information they need to understand what a vegetarian diet really is, why it is healthier and how to do it right -- including eliminating the KFC.


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