Fact-checking site Snopes recently ran a piece titled Do Vegetarians Live Longer Than Meat Eaters?
The December 12 article stated that those in the know about the benefits of vegetarianism typically reference a study of Seventh-day Adventists that many claim shows vegans and vegetarians live longer than their meat eating counterparts.
The piece identified Seventh-day Adventists as “a religious group noted for promoting a strict and healthy lifestyle, to the general population.”
The epidemiology study referenced was done by Loma Linda University and compares vegetarian Adventists to ones that eat meat.
The Adventist Health Study used data collected between 1976 and 1988. Snopes points out that another Adventist Health Study is currently underway with more than 96,000 church members in the US and Canada participating.
Snopes acknowledged that the results of the first AHS study (published in the American Medical Association (AMA)) do show vegetarian Adventist men and women living 9.5 and 6.1 years longer, respectively, than their meat eating counterparts.
However, the Snopes piece also referenced a 2013 follow-up paper done at Loma Linda which “found a similar association” between vegetarianism and living longer “but was more muted in its treatment of a potential direct causation between vegetarianism and longevity.”
The results of the follow-up study, expressed as a chance of death over the study period, may not translate to other populations. In the words of the follow-up study, “Observed mortality benefits may be affected by factors related to the conscious lifestyle choice of a vegetarian diet other than dietary components.”
The study continued to say that caution should be exercised in “generalizing results to other populations in which attitudes, motivations, and applications of vegetarian dietary patterns may differ…”
Snopes referenced a 2015 study of over 60,000 people in the United Kingdom which found that vegetarianism did not provide “overall reduction in risk of early death, though it found that some low-meat diets reduced the risk of death from specific aiments…”
Also, a 2017 paper referenced looking at health metrics for over 240,000 Australians found “no increased longevity from avoiding meat.”
Snopes concluded the fact-checking piece by saying that due to growing research that is skeptical of the correlation between vegetarianism and longevity, the issue is controversial. Snopes ranks the claim that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters as “unproven.”