Seen the headlines that vegetarians have more mental illness?

“Vegetarian diet may cause mental health problems,” warned the website

“Eat more meat? Plant-based diets may hike mental health risks,” reported CNBC in a story filed by the cable channel’s weekend editor.

“Research points to mental health risks associated with meatless diet,” cautioned the CBS owned-and-operated Channel 3 television station in Philadelphia.Meatless

Holy cow!

Time to treat your depression with a steak?

Was the alarming report from the Cen­ters for Disease Control? The National Institutes of Health? Or the Journal of the American Medical Association?

Nope. The breaking news came from an article in Women’s Health magazine.


“Panic attacks. OCD. Depression. WH investigates the puzzling blow of going meatless,” promised the article which was written by the magazine’s food and nutrition editor.

The “investigation” cited two studies. In one, Australian vegetarians “were 18 percent more likely to report depres­sion and 28 percent more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety,” reported Women’s Health.

“A separate German study backs this up, finding that vegetarians were 15 percent more prone to depres­sive conditions and twice as likely to suffer anxiety disorders,” noted the magazine.

(The German study was small. It compared only 54 vegetarians and 190 “predominantly vegetarian” people to non-vegetarians.)

an important detail

Somehow, Women’s Health and its food and nutrition editor missed a key point of the study. “The adoption of the vegetarian diet tends to follow the onset of mental disorders,” wrote the au­thors. “We found no evidence for a causal role of vegetarian diet in the etiology of mental disorders.”

Gosh. How did the eagle-eyed editors at Women’s Health overlook those details, which were buried in, oops, the abstract at the very beginning of the study?

At least the German study was…a study.

We couldn’t find the Austra­lian study in a medical library. That’s because it was “based on 50,000 surveys a year conducted by Roy Morgan Re­search,” a polling firm. We found it on Australia’s (Special Broadcast­ing Service) under the headline “Vege­tarians healthy but unhappy: Study.”

You can buy Roy Morgan’s survey for a mere $1,390 Australian dollars (about $1,000).

On second thought, don’t bother. John Lang, who created a “wellness index” used by the Roy Morgan survey, told that “the diet isn’t the cause but rather the symptom” of the disorders.


Find this article about food interesting and useful? Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about staying healthy with diet and exercise, delicious recipes, and detailed analyses of the healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you’re not already subscribing to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-minded consumers.


3 Replies to “Seen the headlines that vegetarians have more mental illness?”

  1. Confusing coexisting factors for causal ones is a very common and serious mistake made by those wishing to make a claim that promotes an idea or bias. It is an approach often used to manipulate scientific data to make it appear to support an idea that actually has no basis in fact.. Serious readers of medical literature have to be very careful to watch for this and call people out for using this ploy. Best studies are those that are prospective double blinded and showed a definite change in a group after an intervention or change was introduced to only a portion of them, unknown to any of the study subjects. Losing meat from a diet has many benefits and few if any downsides, a fact supported by many credible studies.

  2. Does anecdotal evidence count? Everyone I know that follows a strictly vegan diet, no meat, dairy, fish, or eggs -mental health issues. I am talking 6 different people I know. Only 2 are related to one another. I live rurally and don’t actually know that many people.

  3. Oh, my goodness! Are these people serious? I have been a vegetarian for close to thirty years and I would say that I get “mental illness” no more than anyone else I know (many of whom are not vegetarian). I mean who doesn’t get bummed out now and again, or down-in-the-dumps, or whatever one wishes to call it? Get out in the daylight (sunny or not) and we’ll all probably feel better.

    There are also studies that show that people who eat a lot of meat are more aggressive…maybe they should switch to the vegetarian diet and calm down a bit…

    All we really need is common sense and to eat well.

    Cheers. Happy to still be getting info from Nutrition Action/CSPI.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *