According to a research of more than 26,000 middle-aged UK women, vegetarians had a 33% higher risk of hip fracture than habitual meat eaters.
Researchers from the University of Leeds examined the risk of hip fracture in occasional meat eaters, pescatarians—those who consume fish but no meat—and vegetarians in comparison to regular meat eaters. Their findings were published in the journal BMC Medicine.
Over a period of almost 20 years, 822 hip fracture cases involving 26,318 women were noted; this amounted to just over 3% of the sample. Vegetarians were the only eating group with a higher risk of hip fracture after accounting for factors like smoking and age. This study is one of the few to assess the risk of hip fracture in vegetarians and non – vegetarians using hospital records to confirm hip fracture occurrence.
The researchers emphasise the importance of further investigation into the precise reasons why vegetarians were more likely to suffer a hip fracture.
Leeds School of Food Science and Nutrition doctorate researcher James Webster, the study’s principal author, stated: “Our study indicates possible issues regarding risk of hip fracture in women who eat a vegetarian diet. It does not, however, advise people to stop eating vegetarian food. Like with any diet, it’s critical to comprehend one’s unique situation and the nutrients required for a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Vegetarian diets can vary widely from person to person and can be healthy or unhealthy, just like diets that include animal products. However, the fact that vegetarian diets frequently have lower intakes of nutrients connected to healthy bones and muscles is problematic. Protein, calcium, and other micronutrients are examples of the types of nutrients that are often more prevalent in meat and other animal products than in plants. Low consumption of these nutrients can result in poorer muscle mass and bone mineral density, which can increase your risk of hip fracture. In order to assist people make healthy decisions, it is crucial that future study is done to better understand what causes the greater risk in vegetarians, whether it be specific vitamin deficits or weight control.
Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of vegetarian diets; according to a YouGov survey from 2021, there are about 5-7% vegetarians in the UK. With prior research demonstrating that a vegetarian diet can lower the risks of various chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer compared to omnivore diets, it is frequently seen as a healthier dietary alternative.
Study co-author Professor Janet Cade, leader of the Nutritional Epidemiology Group in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said: “Hip fracture is a global health issue with high economic costs that causes loss of independence, reduces quality of life, and increases risk of other health issues. “Plant-based diets have been linked with poor bone health, but there has been a lack of evidence on the links to hip fracture risk. This study is an important step in understanding the potential risk plant-based diets could present over the long-term and what can be done to mitigate those risks.”
In an effort to combat climate change, there is a global demand for limiting the consumption of animal products. Determining the likelihood of hip fracture among vegetarians is therefore crucial for public health.
The team looked into potential correlations between food and risk of hip fracture using data from the UK Women’s Cohort Study. The University of Leeds created the nationwide cohort of middle-aged women to investigate the relationship between nutrition and chronic disease, spanning a variety of varied eating patterns. A 4-day food diary was used to confirm the dietary data acquired using a food frequency questionnaire on a subsample of women.
The women’s ages when they were included in the cohort study ranged from 35 to 69.
The study’s researchers discovered that vegetarians’ average BMI was marginally lower than that of typical meat eaters. An increased risk of hip fracture has been linked to low BMI, according to earlier studies. A lower BMI may suggest underweight individuals, who may have weaker bones and muscles and a higher risk of hip fracture. If low BMI accounts for the reported greater risk in vegetarians, more research is required to confirm this.
Study co-author, Dr Darren Greenwood, a biostatistician in the School of Medicine at Leeds, said: “This study is just part of the wider picture of diet and healthy bones and muscles in older age. “Further research is needed to confirm whether there could be similar results in men, to explore the role of body weight, and to identify the reasons for different outcomes in vegetarians and meat-eaters.”