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World Wide Populations of Vegetarians
What do Brad Pitt, Bob Dylan, Pamela Anderson, Martina Navratilova, David Duchovny and Brigitte Bardot have in common? They are all vegetarians. With the exception of India, it is estimated that about 1% of the world’s population abstains from meat, poultry and fish, and that about 0.1% is vegan, avoiding all animal products. However, these figures are about 60 million people worldwide, excluding India.
A large 2008 study of vegetarians [Vegetarianism in America, published by Vegetarian Times] shows that 3.2 percent of US adults (7.3 million people) follow a vegetarian diet. About 0.5 percent (1 million) of them are vegans, who do not consume animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of American adults (22.8 million people) say they follow a semi-vegetarian diet, which includes occasional consumption of fish.
This study found that of the non-vegetarians surveyed, 5.2 percent, or 11.9 million people, were “definitely interested” in eating 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 follow a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years; 18 percent in 5 to 10 years; 10.8 percent for 2 to 5 years, 14.1 percent for less than 2 years.
– 42.0 percent are aged 18 to 34; 40.7 percent are from 35 to 54 years old; and 17.4 percent are over 55 years old.
– 59 percent are women and 41 percent are men.
A 2008 vegetarian study also found that 53 percent of vegetarians eat a vegetarian diet to improve their overall health. Environmental factors were cited by 47 percent, 39 percent cited “natural welfare approach,” 54 percent cited animal welfare; 31 percent cited concerns about food safety, 25 percent cited weight loss, and 24 percent cited 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 exception of the United Kingdom. Great Britain has the most vegetarians per capita in Western Europe with 6% of the population. The large number of vegetarians in the United Kingdom is partly explained by health scares 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. For the rest of the world, data is incomplete and estimates vary between 0.2% and 4% of 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 Israel’s Ministry of Health, which equates to a whopping 595,000 people in such a small country. India has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. A 2006 Hindu newspaper survey found that 40 percent of the population, or 399 million people, are vegetarians.
Today, it is estimated that more than 400 million Indians are vegetarians, mostly driven by class and religious concerns, with the Brahmin class expected not to eat meat, the Hindu religion suggesting vegetarianism, and the Jain religion requiring it.
The Jain religion does not believe in harming other life forms. With over 7 million members, they forbid the consumption of any kind of meat, eggs or honey; root vegetables (which can damage soil insects when harvested); and fruits or vegetables that have been on the ground and are older than 3 days (including pickles and preserves). Water must be boiled before drinking, and all liquids must be strained before consumption, usually with a cloth held 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 socio-economic-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 illnesses.
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