Although many people have adopted a vegetarian diet as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, this kind of diet may actually be a marker for detecting eating disorders in some populations, according to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The subjects of this research, conducted at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, were female college students, a subpopulation considered at risk for weight preoccupation.
The researchers observed 143 coeds who completed a 40-item Eating Attitudes Test (EAT) to assess eating disorder tendencies. Thirty participants were self-reported vegetarians, whereas 113 were nonvegetarians. The two top reasons that the vegetarians gave for avoiding red meat were health reasons and weight control. There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of height, weight, age, body mass index, supplement use or meal skipping.
The median EAT score of the vegetarians (16.5) was significantly higher than that of the nonvegetarians (9.0). A score of greater than 30 on the EAT questionnaire indicates weight preoccupation and an increased risk for eating disorders. EAT scores higher than 30 were much more common among vegetarians (37% of the subjects) than among nonvegetarians (8%).
Based on these scores, the researchers concluded that “self-reported vegetarian college women may be more likely to display disordered eating attitudes and behaviors than nonvegetarians.” The researchers said that early detection of disordered eating is critical in order to implement preventive interventions before the unhealthy behavior becomes entrenched.