What do Brad Pitt, Bob Dylan, Pamela Anderson, Martina Navratilova, David Duchovny and Brigitte Bardot have in common? All are vegetarians. With the exception of India, it is estimated that about 1% of the global population abstains from meat, poultry, and fish, and that about 0.1% are vegans, avoiding all animal products. Yet these figures translate into about 60 million people worldwide, excluding India.
A large 2008 study of vegetarians [Vegetarianism in America, published by Vegetarian Times] shows that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults (7.3 million people) follow a vegetarian-based diet. About 0.5 percent (1 million) of those are vegans, who consume no animal products whatsoever. In addition, 10 percent of U.S. adults (22.8 million people) say they follow a semi-vegetarian diet, which includes occasional consumption of fish.
This study showed that of the non-vegetarians surveyed 5.2 percent, or 11.9 million people, are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian diet in the future. This shows that many people believe a vegetarian diet is 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 2008 vegetarian study also showed that 53 percent of vegetarians eat a vegetarian diet to improve their overall health. Environmental factors were cited by 47 percent, 39 percent cited “natural approaches to wellness”, 54 percent cited animal welfare; 31 percent cited food-safety concerns, 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.
The number of vegetarians in Eastern Europe varies between 0.3%% and 1.9% of the population according Mintel, which is a much lower percentage compared to Western European countries. Regarding the rest of the world, data is incomplete and estimates vary between 0.2% and 4% vegetarians as a percentage of population, excluding India and Israel.
Israel, at 8.5%, has the world’s second largest percent of vegetarians, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health, which equates to a remarkable 595,000 people in such a small country. India holds more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. A 2006 survey by the Hindu newspaper found that 40 percent of the population, or 399 million people, are vegetarians.
It is estimated that today, more than 400 million Indians are vegetarian, mostly driven by class and religious concerns, with the Brahmin class expected to not eat meat, the Hindu religion suggesting vegetarianism and the Jain religion demanding it.
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.
There are different types of vegetarians, depending on dietary restrictions. For example, some vegetarians exclude all cooked food, others may exclude milk or eggs, and so on.
It is interesting to note that when vegetarians are compared with non-vegetarians in the same demographic (same socio-economic-cultural background), research shows that vegetarians are less healthy. In fact, peer-reviewed research shows that vegetarians have a higher incidence of cancer, dementia, obesity, heart disease, stroke, eating disorders, infertility and other ailments.