Australian vegetarians growing in number, health conscious, and anxious

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 25th November 2013

There is a slow but steady trend towards meat-free, or at least meat-minimal, eating in Australia, according to market research organisation Roy Morgan Research, with the number of Australians identifying as vegetarian growing to 10 per cent of the population as of June 2013.

The latest findings from Roy Morgan Research showed that the number of Australians aged 14 years or older who agreed with the statement, “The food I eat is all, or almost all, vegetarian” had grown from 1,608,000 in 2009 to 1,935,000 in June 2013.

Vegetarians more health-conscious than average Australian

The findings showed that vegetarians were more health-conscious than their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarians were 50 per cent more likely to agree with the statement “I favour natural medicines and health products” than the average Australian, and 47 per cent more likely to agree that “a low fat diet is a way of life for me”. They were also 23 per cent likelier to “love to do as many sports as possible”.

“Along with ethical reasons, health is one of the main motivations behind the decision to follow a primarily or totally vegetarian diet,” said Nick Williams, Healthcare Consultant at Roy Morgan Research.

“We’ve all heard about how reducing our red meat intake can improve our wellbeing, and our data does indicate that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems as well as being far less likely to be overweight or obese,” Mr Williams said. “However, it’s important to note that vegetarians are 27 per cent more likely to be under 35 than the average Australian, an age when they’re less vulnerable to many illnesses and medical conditions anyway,” he said.

People who said they ate little or no meat were also more likely than the average Australian to enjoy health food, to engage in formal exercise and to avoid dairy foods whenever they could. Roy Morgan Research said that curiously it seemed that a meat-free lifestyle may have some bearing on alcohol consumption too: in any given seven-day period, adult vegetarians were 37 per cent less likely to have had an alcoholic drink than the average Australian.

Not a wholly healthy picture

But for all their healthy living, Roy Morgan Research found that vegetarians were not immune from the occasional setback.

Vegetarians were 59 per cent more likely than the average Australian to be or have been anaemic in the last year, and 24 per cent likelier to have experienced an anxiety disorder.

“Our data also shows that many people who eat little or no meat tend to practice other good health habits as well: they’re less likely to drink excessively or eat food high in fat or containing dairy, and more likely to exercise than the average Australian,” Mr Williams said.

“But this doesn’t make them exempt from health issues: anaemia is a common problem, as a plant-based diet can be low in iron,” Mr Williams said. “And they’re significantly more likely to experience mood and behavioural disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, anorexia or bulimia,” he said.

Roy Morgan Research said that viewed through the lens of its new in-depth profiling tool ‘Helix Personas’, vegetarians were most likely to be found in the ‘Metrotechs Community’, particularly ‘Social Flyers’, ‘Quiet Achievers’ and ‘Social Academics’ (but above average in most ‘Metrotech personas). As well as being environmentally aware and health-conscious, Roy Morgan Research said these individuals were often from ethnic backgrounds where vegetarianism was widespread.

Australian vegetarians are growing in number