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Does vegetarianism affect life expectancy? Is an average vegetarian supposed to live longer just because of their diet?

  • 1
    Not just yours, mate ;) SCNR – rackandboneman Mar 14 '17 at 12:33
  • related: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/1790 – Lior Apr 29 '17 at 18:11
  • Are you asking about lacto-ovo vegetarians, or some other group? – Nic May 14 '18 at 17:24
  • There are many factors involved in a person's life expectancy other than his/her diet which could radically change the results of a scientific evaluation of people's life expectancy. In my opinion the best scientific test for people's life expectancy could be to create a rule-book for everyone to eat the same diet based upon the diet of a person with the highest or most desirable life expectancy. Those who would follow the rule-book could live until they are very old. – Anil London Nov 22 '18 at 19:45
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Yes, according to a paper by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition. (NIH link here)

Results: Our review of the 6 studies found the following trends: 1) a very low meat intake was associated with a significant decrease in risk of death in 4 studies, a nonsignificant decrease in risk of death in the fifth study, and virtually no association in the sixth study; 2) 2 of the studies in which a low meat intake significantly decreased mortality risk also indicated that a longer duration (≥ 2 decades) of adherence to this diet contributed to a significant decrease in mortality risk and a significant 3.6-y (95% CI: 1.4, 5.8 y) increase in life expectancy; and 3) the protective effect of a very low meat intake seems to attenuate after the ninth decade. Some of the variation in the survival advantage in vegetarians may have been due to marked differences between studies in adjustment for confounders, the definition of vegetarian, measurement error, age distribution, the healthy volunteer effect, and intake of specific plant foods by the vegetarians.

TL;DR: 1. less meat = less risk of death, 2. less meat for a longer time = an average of a 3 year longer lifespan + less risk of death, 3. after 90 years of no meat it stops decreasing your risk of death.

Conclusion: Current prospective cohort data from adults in North America and Europe raise the possibility that a lifestyle pattern that includes a very low meat intake is associated with greater longevity.

So yes, scientific research says that vegetarianism could help you live longer, but it primarily decreases your risk of death. (i.e. you might not live to 105, but you probably won't die at 55)

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    What is the difference between decreasing the risk of death and increasing life expectancy? I'm not sure I understand. – Azor Ahai Feb 3 '17 at 20:26
  • @Azor-Ahai I assume that the risk of death counts only health/diet related issues, not death in a car accident and similar. Versus the life expectancy factoring accidental and unrelated deaths in. – Riker Feb 3 '17 at 21:48
  • @Riker There is one factor that you didn't consider: A higher percentage of vegan/vegetarian people are privileged or educated than are meat eaters. It's certainly not as common for lower class or impoverished people to be fussy about what they eat, than high-class people living in affluent neighborhoods with a choice of modern food stores and restaurants. Don't you think that this might have an effect on the study results? – Marco Prins Mar 15 '17 at 15:00
  • @marco hm, good point. Can't edjt right now but will later. – Riker Mar 15 '17 at 18:23
  • Without looking at these studies closely this can't be considered an acceptable answer. – Yola Jan 26 at 12:50
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I just read through everybody's comments on this highly significant life/death question. My observation is that the high number of influencing variables will skew the conclusion of any study. With only a small percentage of the total population being vegetarian, having no prevalent marker to identify who they are, a conclusion can't be drawn that group either. Populations that have a significant vegetarian count may also have other factors that skew the interpretation as to why they die when they do.

So far, now a vegetarian myself for over 35 years, my conclusion is that being a vegetarian will add to my life expectancy. That's just because I feel good about what I eat (most of the time). I'm not relying on any study for that feeling but do take into account the endless info-snippets that I am bombarded with from my family and friends. There I have drawn my own conclusion which is that no good can come from eating meat. Add, that the no-meat diet that just feels good and extends to my overall life style and healthy, or not, decision making.

So to answer the question, I'll draw an analogy to what my stock broker tells me about investing, "If it feels good then go with your gut". There's probably a lot of underlying reasons for those feeling and I believe your gut feel is major in answering this question too.

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