Food habits of young Swedish and Norwegian vegetarians and omnivores

C L Larsson, K S Klock, A N Astrøm, O Haugejorden, G Johansson
Public Health Nutrition 2001, 4 (5): 1005-14

OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of vegetarianism and compare food habits among vegetarian and omnivorous adolescents in Sweden and Norway.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study by questionnaire in Sweden and Norway to gather information about food habits.

SETTING: The municipalities of Umeå and Stockholm in Sweden, and Bergen in Norway.

SUBJECTS: In total 2041 ninth-grade students (578 from Umeå, 504 from Stockholm and 959 from Bergen), mean age 15.5 years, were included. The response rate was 95% in Umeå, 91% in Stockholm and 83% in Bergen.

RESULTS: There was a significantly higher prevalence of vegetarianism in Umeå (15.6%) than in Stockholm (4.8%) and Bergen (3.8%). Vegetarians generally wanted more information about a healthy diet and vegetarian females ate dietary supplements to prevent deficiencies more often than omnivorous females (P < 0.01). The young male vegetarians more or less excluded animal products from their diet without changing their food frequency intake or modifying their dietary habits in other respects, while the young female vegetarians more often consumed vegetables and dietary supplements (P < 0.05). However, there was no difference between the intake of fruits/berries, alcoholic beverages, ice cream, sweets/chocolates and fast foods by vegetarians compared with omnivores.

CONCLUSIONS: There were three to four times more vegetarians in Umeå than in Stockholm and Bergen. The food habits of the young vegetarians differed from those of omnivorous adolescents and also in some respects from previously published comparative studies of vegetarians' and omnivores' food habits. It is uncertain whether the health benefits shown in previous studies on vegetarianism will be experienced by this young generation of vegetarians.

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