2010-2011 Undergraduate Research in Nutrition and Food Science
Vegetarian diets have become more prevalent in the United States in recent years, with about 3% Americans currently following a vegetarian diet. In the 1990's studies have been published identifying the overall health benefits that one could achieve from following a vegetarian diet. Several organizations, including the American Dietetic Association, officially began endorsing vegetarianism and a plant-based diet. The United States government changed the four food group's concept to the food pyramid which encourages individuals to consume the majority of their food in grains, fruits, vegetables and beans, key components to a vegetarian diet. To determine if following a vegetarian diet contributes to a lower body mass index, (BMI) a measure of health, 200 surveys were distributed to undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky. The participants included 64 males (age 22.71 +/- 5.1 yrs) and 136 females (age 21.68 +/- 4.3 yrs). The students were asked questions about body size, food choices and whether or not they participate in a vegetarian lifestyle. If the student engaged in a vegetarian diet, they were asked to indicate which type and for how long. Twenty out of 200 (5%) students indicated that they participate in a vegetarian diet. Sixty five percent of those follow a semi vegetarian diet, 10% follow a lacto vegetarian diet, 15% follow a lacto ovo vegetarian diet and 10% follow a vegan diet. Those who engage in a vegetarian diet had a lower BMI (non vegetarians: 24.48 +/- 3.3 kg/ , vegan: 20.1 +/- .51, lacto vegetarians: 20.4 +/- .08 kg/ , lacto-ovo: 23.67 +/- 3.3 kg/ and semi vegetarians: 23.9 +/- 2.45 kg/ ). These findings are consistent with prior research done on the subject. As America moves toward promoting a healthier nation, this information should be made readily accessible so that people are aware of the possible health benefits of following a vegetarian lifestyle.