Perceptions and practices of self-defined current vegetarian, former vegetarian, and nonvegetarian women

Susan I Barr, Gwen E Chapman
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2002, 102 (3): 354-60

OBJECTIVE: To assess the diversity of vegetarians' dietary practices and how they change over time, and to explore perceptions of meat and dairy products among vegetarians, former vegetarians, and nonvegetarians.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey; qualitative interviews with a subsample.

SUBJECTS/SETTING: Ninety self-defined current vegetarian, 35 former vegetarian and 68 nonvegetarian women in Vancouver, British Columbia. A subsample of 15 subjects completed qualitative interviews.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS PERFORMED: Group comparisons using 1-way analysis of variance with post-hoc testing for continuous variables, chi2 for categorical variables.

RESULTS: Of 90 current vegetarians, 51 and 14 reported occasional use of fish or chicken respectively. Fifty-six vegetarians, including 4 of 6 vegans, reported that their diets had become more restrictive over time, and 48 planned additional changes, most frequently a reduction in dairy product use. Reasons cited by former vegetarians for resuming omnivorous diets included: not feeling healthy, concern about their nutritional status, a change in living situation, or missing the taste of meat. Perceptions of meat and dairy products differed significantly by dietary pattern: nonvegetarians and former vegetarians were more likely than current vegetarians to agree with statements inferring positive attributes (eg, nutrient content). In contrast, more current and former vegetarians than nonvegetarians agreed with statements inferring negative attributes (eg, presence of contaminants).

APPLICATIONS/CONCLUSIONS: Dietitians who counsel women need to be aware of the heterogeneity of dietary practices and beliefs regarding use of animal products to provide advice appropriate to each individual. At a broader level, addressing women's food safety and animal welfare concerns will likely require collaboration among food industry and government, health, and consumer agencies.

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