Health In Focus
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet can protect middle aged and elderly populations from obesity.
  • Even if the diet is not followed strictly, the plant-based diet helps prevents obesity.
  • This could mean that simply reducing red meat consumption or eating a few more vegetables could help fight obesity.

Even moderate adherence to a vegetarian or vegan diet can protect middle aged and elderly populations from obesity, according to a new study presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Vienna, Austria. The study shows that even if the diet is not strictly followed, a plant-based diet may prevent obesity.

Study Overview

While previous studies have suggested that plant-based diets may reduce the risk of developing obesity, it was unclear if and how varying degrees of adherence to a plant-based diet influenced obesity.
Vegetarian Diet Offers Protection Against Obesity

The new study was led by Zhangling Chen, and colleagues from Erasmuc MC Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The team examined the association between varying degrees of adherence to plant-based diet and body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, fat mass index (fat weight relative to height), fat-free mass index, and body fat percentage. The association was analyzed over the long term in 9,641 middle-aged and elderly adults from the Rotterdam Study, an ongoing population-based study in The Netherlands.

The dietary data was collected using a food frequency questionnaire. Positive scores were given to participants for eating plant-based foods such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Negative scores were given for eating animal foods like meat, dairy, and fish. A higher score indicated better adherence to a diet rich in plant-based products and low in animal-based products.

Also, participants had their height, weight, and waist circumference repeatedly measured every 3 to 5 years between 1986 and 2016. Fat mass and fat-free mass were measured using dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanning every 3 to 5 years from 2002 to 2016.

Study Findings:
  • Participants who had higher scores on the plant-based diet index had a lower BMI over the long term, mainly due to lower body fat mass.
  • Compared to participants with a score of zero on the index, participants with a 10 point score had 0.70 kg/m lower BMI and 0.62kg/m lower fat mass index.
  • A higher score index was achieved by replacing 50g of red meat per day with 200g of vegetables.
  • A higher score was associated with lower waist circumference and body fat percentage.
Chen concludes: "Our study suggests that a more plant-based and less animal-based diet beyond strict adherence to vegan or vegetarian diets may be beneficial for preventing overweight/ obesity in middle-aged and elderly populations. In other words, eating a plant-based diet to protect against obesity does not require a radical change in diet or a total elimination of meat or animal products. Instead, it can be achieved in various ways, such as moderate reduction of red meat consumption or eating a few more vegetables. This supports current recommendations to shift to diets rich in plant foods, with low in consumption of animal foods."

References :
  1. Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Trisha Mandes, Anthony Crimarco, "A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment" (2017) 14(5): 369-374. doi: 10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.002 Journal of Geriatric Cardiology
  2. BMI Calculator - (

Source: Medindia

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