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Poster 1382 Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Vegetarians in the United States: A Population‐based Study

Dr. Hyunseok Kim
Hyunseok Kim, MD, MPH

Author Insight from Hyunseok Kim, MD, MPH, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

What’s new here and important for clinicians?

With today’s increased focus on health and wellness, there have been many different diet trends, such as gluten-free, Mediterranean and plant-based diets, gaining popularity due to the impact of a person’s eating habits on weight and common diseases. The vegetarian diet has long been around and is still gaining momentum. There are few nationally representative studies that investigate the vegetarian diet and its association with obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Thus, we aimed to estimate the prevalence of obesity and CVD risk among vegetarians using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Studies from NHANES have included diet preferences in the survey over a span of four years (2007-2010). We used this data to identify demographic characteristics such as age, race/ethnicity, sex, common chronic diseases, poverty index and body habitus (weight, body mass index (BMI)) of vegetarians versus the general population. Our study found that the prevalence of vegetarianism in U.S. adults was 2.3%, corresponding to 4.5 million individuals. Vegetarians are more likely to be young, women, have a smaller BMI/waist circumference, and a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome. However, there was no significant difference in terms of Framingham CVD risk, after adjustment, implying lower CVD risk (2.7% vs 4.5%) may be confounded by younger age and female gender.

What do patients need to know?

There have been many fad diets gaining popularity with the recent focus on the importance of nutrition and disease prevention. This study looked at vegetarian diet epidemiology in the United States to determine associated health trends. While some diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been extensively studied to assess risks, benefits and long-term effects when compared to the general population, there are few studies looking at the role of the vegetarian diet in certain diseases. Several prior studies have reported that vegetarian diets may provide a health benefit in terms of chronic disease development such as CVD, obesity or metabolic syndrome. Our study also supports that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, hypertension and metabolic syndrome. However, when we calculated 10-year cardiovascular risk based on the Framingham equation, there was no difference between vegetarian and the general population after adjusting for age, sex and race. This may imply that the health benefit of the vegetarian diet in preventing cardiovascular diseases may have been exaggerated by the fact that vegetarians are more common in the young-female group who are at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Further prospective studies are warranted to confirm our finding and understand long-term benefits of vegetarian diets in the general population.

Read the Abstract

See Table 1

Author Contact

Hyunseok Kim, MD, MPH, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

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