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Men and women who follow a vegetarian diet face a 50% greater risk of a hip fracture compared to people who regularly eat meat, according to a large-scale study.
Researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK analyzed data on 413,914 people — both men and women — and gave the first evidence that vegetarian men also face a greater risk of hip fracture than men who regularly eat meat.
“Hip fractures are a growing problem in an ageing society, and can trigger debilitating health conditions and a loss of quality of life,” said James Webster, a doctoral researcher in the School of Food Science and Nutrition who led the study.
“While vegetarian diets have health benefits, understanding diet quality and the balance of key nutrients may help to reduce risk and improve future bone health,” added Prof Janet Cade, who leads the Nutritional Epidemiology Group at the varsity.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, showed that while vegetarians face a greater risk of hip fracture than meat-eaters — at 50% — this translates to just 3 more hip fractures per 1,000 people over 10 years.
“The health benefits of a vegetarian diet, including a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, may still outweigh any increases in hip fracture risk,” Webster said.
The team also calculated how the relative differences may translate to real-world cases.
They predicted on average 6.5 regular meat eaters (who ate meat five or more times a week) and 6.5 occasional meat eaters (consuming meat fewer than five times week) would experience a hip fracture, while there would be 7 cases among pescatarians (who ate fish but not meat) and 9.5 cases among vegetarians (who consume dairy foods but not fish or meat).
Further, Webster explained that “low BMI may be a key factor in why their risk is higher”.
Additionally, vegetarians were about 17% less likely to meet protein recommendations than meat-eaters.
“So, important messages from our study are that vegetarians need to ensure they are getting a balanced diet with enough protein and maintain a healthy BMI. This will help vegetarians to maintain healthy bones and muscles.”
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