Mortality in British vegetarians: review and preliminary results from EPIC-Oxford

Timothy J Key, Paul N Appleby, Gwyneth K Davey, Naomi E Allen, Elizabeth A Spencer, Ruth C Travis
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003, 78 (3 Suppl): 533S-538S

BACKGROUND: Three prospective studies have examined the mortality of vegetarians in Britain.

OBJECTIVE: We describe these 3 studies and present preliminary results on mortality from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford (EPIC-Oxford).

DESIGN: The Health Food Shoppers Study and the Oxford Vegetarian Study were established in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively; each included about 11 000 subjects and used a short questionnaire on diet and lifestyle. EPIC-Oxford was established in the 1990s and includes about 56 000 subjects who completed detailed food frequency questionnaires. Mortality in all 3 studies was followed though the National Health Service Central Register.

RESULTS: Overall, the death rates of all the subjects in all 3 studies are much lower than average for the United Kingdom. Standardized mortality ratios (95% CIs) for all subjects were 59% (57%, 61%) in the Health Food Shoppers Study, 52% (49%, 56%) in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, and 39% (37%, 42%) in EPIC-Oxford. Comparing vegetarians with nonvegetarians within each cohort, the death rate ratios (DRRs), adjusted for age, sex and smoking, were 1.03 (0.95, 1.13) in the Health Food Shoppers Study, 1.01 (0.89, 1.14) in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, and 1.05 (0.86, 1.27) in EPIC-Oxford. DRRs for ischemic heart disease in vegetarians compared with nonvegetarians were 0.85 (0.71, 1.01) in the Health Food Shoppers Study, 0.86 (0.67, 1.12) in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, and 0.75 (0.41, 1.37) in EPIC-Oxford.

CONCLUSIONS: The mortality of both the vegetarians and the nonvegetarians in these studies is low compared with national rates. Within the studies, mortality for major causes of death was not significantly different between vegetarians and nonvegetarians, but the nonsignificant reduction in mortality from ischemic heart disease among vegetarians was compatible with the significant reduction previously reported in a pooled analysis of mortality in Western vegetarians.

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