World populations of vegetarians
What do Brad Pitt, Bob Dylan, Pamela Anderson, Martina Navratilova, David Duchovny and Brigitte Bardot have in common? They are all vegetarian. With the exception of India, it is estimated that around 1% of the world’s population abstains from meat, poultry and fish, and that around 0.1% are vegan and avoid all animal products. However, these figures translate to around 60 million people worldwide, excluding India.
A large 2008 study on vegetarians [Vegetarianism in America, published by Vegetarian Times] shows that 3.2 percent of American adults (7.3 million people) follow a vegetarian diet. About 0.5 percent (1 million) of them are vegans, who do not consume any animal products. In addition, 10 percent of American adults (22.8 million people) say they follow a semi-vegetarian diet, which includes the occasional consumption of fish.
This study showed that of the non-vegetarians surveyed, 5.2 percent, or 11.9 million people, are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian diet in the future. This shows that many people believe that a vegetarian diet is a healthy diet.
The vegetarian study collected data on age, gender, and other demographic factors that revealed that:
– 57.1 percent have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years; 18 percent from 5 to 10 years; 10.8 percent for 2 to 5 years, 14.1 percent for less than 2 years.
– 42.0 percent are between 18 and 34 years old; 40.7 percent are between 35 and 54 years old; and 17.4 percent are over 55 years of age.
– 59 percent are women and 41 percent are men.
The 2008 Vegetarian Study also showed that 53 percent of vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet to improve their overall health. Environmental factors were cited by 47 percent, 39 percent “natural approaches to wellness,” 54 percent cited animal welfare; 31 percent mentioned food safety concerns, 25 percent mentioned weight loss and 24 percent mentioned weight maintenance.
In Western Europe the number of vegetarians varies between 2% and 4% of the population according to a 2006 Mintel survey (Mintel.com), with the UK as an exception. The UK is shown to have the highest vegetarians per capita in Western Europe at 6% of the population. The large number of vegetarians in the UK is to some extent explained by health problems related to mad cow disease.
The number of vegetarians in Eastern Europe varies between 0.3%% and 1.9% of the population according to Mintel, which is a much lower percentage compared to Western European countries. As for the rest of the world, the data is incomplete and estimates vary between 0.2% and 4% vegetarians as a percentage of the population, excluding India and Israel.
Israel, at 8.5%, has the second highest percentage of vegetarians in the world, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health, which equates to a remarkable 595,000 people in such a small country. India has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. A 2006 survey by the Hindu newspaper found that 40 percent of the population, or 399 million people, are vegetarians.
It is estimated that today, more than 400 million Indians are vegetarians, mostly driven by religious and class concerns, with the Brahmin class expected to eat no meat, Hindu religion suggest vegetarianism and Jain religion requires it.
The Jain religion does not believe in harmonizing other forms of life. With more than 7 million members, they prohibit the consumption of any type of meat, eggs or honey; tubers (which can harm soil insects when harvested); and fruits or vegetables that have been in the ground, and those that are more than 3 days old (including pickles and preserves). Water must be boiled before drinking, and all liquids must be strained before consumption, usually with a cloth over the mouth.
There are different types of vegetarians, depending on dietary restrictions. For example, some vegetarians exclude all cooked foods, others may exclude milk or eggs, etc.
It is interesting to note that when vegetarians are compared to non-vegetarians in the same demographic (same socioeconomic-cultural background), research shows that vegetarians are less healthy. In fact, peer-reviewed research shows that vegetarians have a higher incidence of cancer, dementia, obesity, heart disease, stroke, eating disorders, infertility, and other foods.