Vegetarian women more likely to suffer from hip fractures, study finds
LEEDS, England — Middle-aged vegetarian women are more likely to suffer a hip fracture than regular meat eaters, a new study reveals. Using hospital records, the study found that vegetarians had a 33% higher risk than people who ate meat five or more times a week.
The scientists say the study does not conclude that vegetarians should simply add meat to their diets and underscores the need for further research into why they face a higher risk.
“Our study highlights potential concerns about the risk of hip fracture in women who follow a vegetarian diet,” said study lead author James Webster, a doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, in a statement. “However, this does not warn people to abandon vegetarian diets. As with any diet, it is important to understand personal circumstances and the nutrients needed for a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Vegetarian diets have grown in popularity in recent years. A 2018 Gallup poll shows that 5% of Americans avoid meat from their plate. Previous studies have shown that a vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, compared to omnivorous diets.
There is also a growing call to reduce meat consumption globally to reduce carbon emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change. Understanding the health effects of a vegetarian diet is therefore becoming increasingly important for public health.
For the study, the researchers looked at the risk of hip fracture in occasional meat eaters, pescatarians (people who eat fish, but not meat) and vegetarians, compared to regular meat eaters. Over a 20-year period, they found 822 hip fractures in 26,318 middle-aged British women, or just over 3%.
After adjusting for other factors like smoking and age, vegetarians were the only diet group at high risk for hip fracture.
“Hip fracture is a global health problem with high economic costs that leads to loss of independence, reduced quality of life and increased risk of other health problems,” says the co-author of the study, Janet Cade, head of the nutritional epidemiology group at the School of Food Science and Nutrition in Leeds. “Plant-based diets have been associated with poor bone health, but there has been a lack of evidence on links to hip fracture risk. This study is an important step in understanding the potential risk that Plant-based diets might present long-term and what can be done to mitigate those risks.
The research team also found that the average BMI (body mass index) of vegetarians was slightly lower than the average of regular meat eaters. Previous research has shown a link between a low BMI and a high risk of hip fracture. A lower BMI can mean people are underweight, which can mean poorer bone and muscle health and a higher risk of hip fracture.
“Vegetarian diets can vary widely from person to person and can be healthy or unhealthy, as can diets that include animal products. However, it is concerning that vegetarian diets often have lower intakes of nutrients related to bone and muscle health,” says Webster. “These types of nutrients are generally more abundant in meat and other animal products than in plants, such as protein, calcium, and other micronutrients.A low intake of these nutrients can lead to a decrease in bone mineral density and muscle mass, which can make you more vulnerable to the risk of hip fracture, so it is particularly important to continue research to better understand the factors behind the increased risk in vegetarians, whether it be particular nutritional deficiencies or weight management, so that we can help people make healthy choices.
The results of the study are published in the journal BMC Medicine.
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.