Life may last longer for vegetarians

THE QUESTION Various diets and eating habits have been linked to life span. What effect might vegetarian eating have on longevity?

THIS STUDY included 73,308 adults, most in their mid- to upper-50s and with no diagnosis of cancer or cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Vegetarians comprised roughly half of the group and included vegans (who eat only plant-based foods), lacto-ovo vegetarians (who also consume eggs and dairy products), pesco-vegetarians (who also eat fish and seafood), and semi-vegetarians (who do not eat red meat but may eat chicken or fish, dairy products and eggs). Vegetarians had followed their eating pattern for an average of 19 to 39 years, depending on the type. In about a six-year span, 2,570 of the participants died. Overall, vegetarians were 12 percent less likely to have died in that time than were non-vegetarians. Mortality rates were lowest for vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians. Male vegetarians were somewhat less likely to have died than female vegetarians.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Vegetarians, whose limited diet usually leads to less obesity and fewer problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

CAVEATS Dietary data came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires. The study did not determine whether vegetarians’ survival edge came from the predominantly plant-based foods they ate or from their minimal consumption of meat and animal products. Other lifestyle choices not tracked in the study may have affected the mortality rates.

FIND THIS STUDY June 3 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Mortality rates were lowest for vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians. (iStockphoto/ISTOCKPHOTO)

LEARN MORE ABOUT the vegetarian diet at (click on “10 Tips Nutrition Education Series,” then “Healthy Eating for Vegetarians”) and

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.