Comparing Vegan And Vegetarian Attitudes, Beliefs, And Perceptions With Risk For Disordered Eating Behaviors

Chaya Lee Charles, Syracuse University


ABSTRACT Objective: Evaluate the following for effect on disordered eating behaviors and body image: An individual's motivation for consuming a vegan/vegetarian diet; Accuracy in self-–reporting of vegan/vegetarian status and; Level of acculturation in vegan/vegetarian American immigrants. Design: A descriptive, cross-–sectional study evaluating vegan/vegetarian beliefs and current practices, using the theoretical framework of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Subjects/Setting: Participants recruited via e-–mail list-–servs for the Vegetarian Resource Group and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Data were collected in 2010, using SurveyMonkey©©. This research utilized a survey tool developed for this study, with the Eating Attitudes Test-–26 and the Body Image States Scale embedded. Analysis: A 9-–item food-–frequency questionnaire was used to validate accuracy of self-–reported vegan/vegetarians. A four-–point Likert type scale assessed dietary motivations. Disordered eating risk was determined using a scoring system from EAT-–26. Cross-–tabs and T-–tests compared disordered eating risk and body image states between the study and comparison groups. Results: Study sample of 204 participants, including 128 self-–reported vegans/vegetarians. When food-–frequency data were compared to those self-–reporting as vegetarian/vegan, an only 47% accuracy rate in dietary classification was found. Of the confirmed vegans/vegetarians, 53% cited animal rights/cruelty as their primary dietary motivator. Those in the study who inaccurately self-–reported, those following their current diet for less than 1 year, and those with weight motivation for dietary choices, were found to be at a heightened risk for disordered eating. Second-–generation American immigrant vegan/vegetarians were also found to be at an elevated risk. Conclusions and Applications: Findings indicate a tendency towards higher disordered eating behavior in vegetarians (esp. lacto-–ovo vegetarians) than vegans. Health/weight motivated vegetarians appeared to be at higher risk for disordered eating than the rest of the group, so evaluation of dietary motivation is crucial in establishing potential risk for disordered eating. Length of time following the diet seemed to improve accuracy of self-–reporting and inversely decrease the likelihood of disordered eating behaviors. Those who have followed the diet for shorter periods of time and do not truly follow a vegetarian or vegan diet (when compared to operationalized definitions) have a higher risk of disordered eating behaviors than true vegans/vegetarians. The highest risk for disordered eating and poor body image was found to be in second generation confirmed vegetarian/vegans. The small sample size of this sub-–group prevents sound generalization of these results, however the trends suggest further research be conducted with this group to help better assess potential risks and necessary intervention by family and/or health practitioners.