While proponents of vegan and vegetarian diets like to promote them as healthier than diets that include meat, a study in the United Kingdom indicates that meat eaters generally have better bone health.
I recently learned about the study, conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol, which analyzed data from about 54,898 U.K. residents. The research showed that when compared to people who ate meat, vegans with lower calcium and protein intakes on average had a 43% higher risk of bone fractures anywhere in the body.
The study also showed that vegetarians and pescetarians (people who eat fish but no other meat) had a higher risk of hip fractures when compared to those who eat other meats, although the risk of fractures was partly reduced once body mass index (BMI), dietary calcium and dietary protein intake were taken into account.
The study was published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.
Also noted in the research was that in addition to a higher risk of hip fractures in vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians than the meat eaters, vegans also had a higher risk of leg fractures and other main site fractures. The authors observed no significant differences in risks between diet groups for arm, wrist or ankle fractures once BMI was taken into account.
Of the 54,898 people included in the survey, 29,380 ate meat, 8,037 ate fish but not meat, 15,499 were vegetarians, and 1,982 were vegans when they were recruited. Their eating habits were assessed initially at recruitment, then again in 2010. Participants were followed continuously for 18 years on average, until 2016 for the occurrence of fractures. During the time of the study, 3,941 fractures occurred in total, including 566 arm, 889 wrist, 945 hip, 366 leg, 520 ankle and 467 fractures at other main sites, defined as the clavicle, ribs and vertebrae.
“This is the first comprehensive study on the risks of both total and site-specific fractures in people of different diet groups. We found that vegans had a higher risk of total fractures which resulted in close to 20 more cases per 1000 people over a 10-year period compared to people who ate meat. The biggest differences were for hip fractures, where the risk in vegans was 2.3 times higher than in people who ate meat, equivalent to 15 more cases per 1000 people over 10 years,” said Dr. Tammy Tong, nutritional epidemiologist at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and the lead author of the study.
It was noted that in this particular study, more women were subjects than men, so additional studies could be needed to get a clear-cut picture of the risks from not eating meat. It also noted that if a similar study were conducted outside of Europe, the results might be different.
But my thought on the matter is this: Who wants a fractured bone? Why take a chance?