What do Brad Pitt, Martina Navratilova, David Duchovny, Bob Dylan, Pamela Anderson, and Brigitte Bardot have in common? All are known to be vegetarians. Apart from India, it is estimated that about 1% of the global population abstains from poultry, meat and fish and that about 0.1% are vegans, avoiding all animal products. These figures translate into about 60 million vegetarians worldwide, not including India.
In a 2008 study [Vegetarianism in America, published by Vegetarian Times] it shows that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S. adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.
The 2008 study indicates that of the non-vegetarians surveyed 5.2 percent, or 11.9 million people, are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian-based diet in the future. This clearly shows that most people believe a vegetarian diet equates to a healthy diet.
The vegetarian study collected data on age, gender and other demographic factors revealing that:
– 57.1 percent have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years; 18 percent for 5 to 10 years; 10.8 percent for 2 to 5 years, 14.1 percent for less than 2 years.
– 42.0 percent are age 18 to 34 years old; 40.7 percent are 35 to 54; and 17.4 percent are aged over 55.
– 59 percent are female and 41 percent are male.
The vegetarian study also indicated that over half (53 percent) of current vegetarians eat a vegetarian diet to improve their overall health. Environmental concerns were cited by 47 percent, 39 percent cited ” natural approaches to wellness”, 31 percent cited food-safety concerns, 54 percent cited animal welfare, 25 percent cited weight loss and 24 percent weight maintenance.
In Western Europe the number of vegetarians varies between 2% and 4% of the population according to to a 2006 Mintel survey (Mintel.com), with the United Kingdom as the exception. The UK is shown as having the highest per capita vegetarians in Western Europe at 6% of the population. The large number of vegetarians in the UK is accounted for to some extent by health scares relating to mad cow disease.
By contrast, the number of vegetarians in Eastern Europe is much lower, varying between 0.3%% and 1.9% of the population according Mintel. Looking at the rest of the world, data is scarce but estimates vary between 0.2% and 4% vegetarians as a percentage of population, but there are two big exceptions to this: Israel and India.
With 8.5%, Israel has the world’s second largest percentage of vegetarians according to the Israeli Ministry of Health. This equates to a remarkable 595,000 people in such a small country. When it comes to India, they have more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. A 2006 survey by ‘The Hindu’ newspaper found that 40 percent of the population (399 million people) are vegetarians.
Today it is estimated that more than 400 million Indians are vegetarian, mostly due to class and religious considerations, with the Brahmin class expected to not eat meat, the Hindu religion suggesting vegetarianism and the Jain religion demanding it. The Brahmins make up 55% of Indian vegetarians.
The Jain religion does not believe in harming other forms of life. With over 7 million members, they prohibit consumption of any kind of flesh, eggs, or honey; root vegetables (which might harm soil insects when harvested); and fruit or vegetables that have been on the ground, and those that are more than 3 days old (including pickles and preserves). Water must be boiled before drinking, and all liquids must be strained before consumption, usually with a cloth held over the mouth.
Clearly, there are different types of vegetarians, depending on what foods are avoided in the diet. For example, some vegetarians exclude eggs, others avoid milk, and so on.
Growing evidence is showing that when vegetarians are compared with non-vegetarians in the same socio-economic-cultural background (i.e. same demographic), vegetarians are less healthy. Peer-reviewed research published in mainstream medical journals shows that vegetarians have a higher incidence of heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, obesity, eating disorders, infertility and other health issues.