Cross-sectional analysis of BMI and some lifestyle variables in Flemish vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians

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Epidemiological studies on vegetarians indicate that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are associated with certain health benefits, which may lower mortality and morbidity. A healthy lifestyle, such as regular physical activity and avoidance of harmful practices, such as smoking and heavy drinking, could also influence these positive health-related outcomes in vegetarians. This study reports BMI, smoking and drinking habits, engagement in physical activity, medication use and subjective health perception in a vegetarian population (women: n = 206, mean age 37.0 +/- 12.3 years; men: n = 120, mean age 42.3 +/- 15.9 years) as compared with a reference Belgian population ( women: n = 4993, mean age 49.8 +/- 18.0 years; men: n = 4666, mean age 48.0 +/- 17.1 years). When considering the vegetarian group as a whole, the vegetarians had a lower mean BMI compared with the reference population (respectively 22.1 +/- 3.1 kg/m(2) compared with 24.6 +/- 4.8 kg/m(2) for women (p <0.001) and respectively 22.6 +/- 3.6 kg/m(2) compared with 25.7 +/- 4.0 kg/m(2) for men (p <0.001)). Vegetarians smoked less than subjects of the reference group (13.5% compared with 28.5% respectively; p <0.001). During weekdays the percentage of subjects consuming alcoholic drinks in the two populations was comparable (32.8 in the vegetarian and 35.8 in the reference population; p = 0.159). During the weekend, more subjects of the reference population drank alcohol compared with the vegetarian subjects (70.2% vs. 58.6% respectively; p = 0.026). More vegetarians were involved in intensive physical activity ( over 4 h per week) compared with the reference population (36.8% vs. 17.3% respectively; p <0.001), while fewer vegetarians were involved in moderate physical activity ( up to 4 h per week) compared with subjects of the reference group (28.2% and 51.0% respectively; p <0.001). Percentages of subjects involved in no physical activity were comparable in both groups (vegetarians 34.9 vs. reference subjects 31.8; p = 0.625). Use of prescribed medication was lower among the vegetarians (25.5% compared with 47.3% in the reference population; p <0.001), while use of non-prescribed drugs was comparable between both groups ( 34.1% in the vegetarian group and 28.2% in the reference group; p = 0.580). More vegetarian subjects perceived their health to be good to very good compared with the subjects of the reference population (90.4% vs. 77.2% respectively; p <0.001). The significant difference for the BMI values when comparing the vegetarian males and females with the reference population cannot be completely explained by the evaluated lifestyle characteristics. However, the lower BMI values in vegetarians are in agreement with the literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1444
Number of pages12
Issue number11-14
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Ergonomics. 2005 Sep 15-Nov 15;48(11-14):1433-44.


  • vegetarianism
  • healthy lifestyle
  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • physical activity


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