Meat consumption around the world has been on the rise as incomes have grown. In the United States, more meat is consumed than anywhere else. For many, a meal simply is not a meal if it does not have at least a half-pound of flesh on it. Vegetarianism has been in practice by large groups for quite a long time for both health and moral reasons. According to a new scientific study from the University of Oxford, vegetarians have new ammunition in their anti-meat crusade. The study claims that the risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease is 32 percent lower for vegetarians than for people who eat meat and fish.
For developed nations like the USA and United Kingdom, where this study took place, heart disease is the number one cause of death. In the UK alone, 65,000 people die from it every year. Although heart disease usually affects elder adults, the precursors for it begin early in life in the form of atherosclerosis, a condition in which the artery wall thickens as a result of accumulation of fatty materials like cholesterol, found most commonly in meats rather than vegetables.
'Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease,' explains Dr Francesca Crowe, lead author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford.
The Oxford researchers examined 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland, an enormous sample size. Of this group, 34 percent were vegetarian. This high proportion of vegetarians is rare, making this particular study unique in reaching its conclusion.
Other factors which contribute to heart disease such as age, smoking, alcohol, physical activity, socioeconomic background, and education level were taken into account. Afterwards, the researchers arrived at the figure of 32 percent, the amount of reduced risk of heart disease for vegetarians.
In the study, vegetarians had lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels, as well as a lower body mass index (BMI) and fewer cases of diabetes.
In the United States, the largest meat-eating nation in the world, meat consumption has actually declined in recent years. According to USDA, total consumption fell by 12 percent in 2012 from the 2007 level. This may be due to a general awareness of other sources of protein, the health risks, environmental and animal welfare concerns, and of course, higher costs.
This study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition