Intended for healthcare professionals


Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 25 June 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1667
  1. M Thorogood,
  2. J Mann,
  3. P Appleby,
  4. K McPherson
  1. Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  2. Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  3. Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6HE
  1. Correspondence to: Professor Mann.
  • Accepted 11 April 1994


Objective: To investigate the health consequences of a vegetarian diet by examining the 12 year mortality of non-meat eaters and meat eating controls.

Design: Prospective observational study in which members of the non-meat eating cohort were asked to nominate friends or relatives as controls.

Setting: United Kingdom.

Subjects: 6115 non-meat eaters identified through the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom and the news media (mean (SD) age 38.7 (16.8) years) and 5015 controls who were meat eaters (39.3 (15.4) years).

Main outcome measures: Standardised mortality ratios for cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and total mortality in the two cohorts and death rate ratio in the non-meat eaters compared with meat eaters after adjustment for potentially confounding variables.

Results: Standardised mortality ratios (taking the value among the general population as 100) for ischaemic heart disease were 51 (95% confidence interval 38 to 66) for meat eaters and 28 (20 to 38) for non- meat eaters (P<0.01). Values for all cancers were 80 (64 to 98) and 50 (39 to 62) for meat eaters20and non-meat eaters respectively. After adjustment20for the effects of smoking, body mass index, and socioeconomic status death rate ratios in non-meat eaters compared with meat eaters were 0.72 (0.47 to 1.10) for ischaemic heart disease and 0.61 (0.44 to 0.84) for all cancers.

Conclusions: The reduced mortality from cancer among those not eating meat is not explained by lifestyle related risk factors, which have a low prevalence among vegetarians. No firm conclusion can be made about deaths from ischaemic heart disease. These data do not justify advice to exclude meat from the diet since there are several attributes of a vegetarian diet apart from not eating meat which might reduce the risk.


  • Accepted 11 April 1994
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