For the entire population this is an easy statistic to look up and can be used to react to the risks of say, heart attack (common), versus ebola (rare).

The hypothesis is that vegetarians are less likely to die from heart disease, diabetes and so on. If this is true, then vegetarians and vegans could have a different top ten list of causes of death.

My due diligence for google searches only turned up idle speculation on forums.

Do we have data on the top ten causes of death for non-omnivores?

2 Answers 2


Some studies have been conducted on this topic. The "top ten" is roughly the same for meat-eaters. However, since cardiovascular diseases have a much lower impact, malignant neoplasms get to be the first cause of death, at least in this study.

You might enjoy reading some articles on the topic:

  • Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. BMJ 1994;308:1667-71.
  • Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality pattern of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401.
  • Phillips RL, Garfinkel L, Kuzma JW, Beeson WL, Lotz T, Brin B. Mortality among California Seventh-day Adventists for selected cancer sites. JNCI 1980;65:1097-107.
  • Kahn HA, Phillips RL, Snowdon DA, Choi W. Association between reported diet and all-cause mortality. Twenty-one-year follow-up on 27,530 adult Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Epidemiol 1984;119:775-87.
  • Key TJ1, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Burr ML. Dietary habits and mortality in 11,000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17 year follow up. BMJ. 1996 Sep 28;313(7060):775-9.

Definitely an interesting question. I will try to answer it using list of causes of death from Wikipedia (the table contains rather old data, but it has improved readability over the newer one provided here).

Short answer: No major changes are to expected in the top causes of death, except for the first two major causes: Cardiovascular diseases and Infectious and parasitic diseases.

Disclaimer: the following is not intended to be mathematically precise, but rather a qualitative analysis (lots of assumptions and rough approximations are used).

Long answer:

So, the main causes of death along with their frequency is the following (I am considering main groups only):

  • Cardiovascular diseases: 29.34%
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 23.04%
  • Malignant neoplasms (cancers): 12.49%
  • Respiratory diseases: 6.49%
  • Unintentional injuries: 6.23%

According to this source:

[...] vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality from ischemic heart disease than nonvegetarians, but no associations of a vegetarian diet with other major causes of death were established.

This means that virtually, only cardiovascular diseases mortality (which contains ischemic heart disease) is greatly influenced by being a vegetarian or not. So, it is a chance that the 6% difference can be gained by the vegetarians. Also, the other causes of death changes changes are expected to be very small (except for malignant neoplasms which is detailed below).

According to this article:

[...] vegetarians are 45% less likely to develop cancer of the blood than meat eaters and are 12% less likely to develop cancer overall

12% is clearly too low to make a position change in the top.

So, my opinion is that the most probably main causes of death for vegetarians should be the following:

  • Cardiovascular diseases: ~23%
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: ~23%
  • Malignant neoplasms (cancers): ~11%
  • Respiratory diseases: >6.5%
  • Unintentional injuries: >6.2%

NOTE: I have scaled mortality rates with the reduced change of dying from that particular disease (where sources indicate that mortality rate is significantly changed by being a vegetarian). I expect that it is not that simple, but close enough for our little top.

It is very hard to evaluate how non-cardiovascular and non-cancers rates are changes, but there are expected to be greater.

Other reduction used is that the ratio vegetarian/total population is very small (this table indicates it somewhere near 5%).

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