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Dietary habits and mortality in 11 000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17 year follow up

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 28 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:775
  1. Timothy J A Key, research scientista,
  2. Margaret Thorogood, senior lecturerb,
  3. Paul N Appleby, scientific officera,
  4. Michael L Burr, senior lecturerc
  1. a Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX2 6HE
  2. b Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  3. c Centre for Applied Public Health Medicine, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff CF1 3NW
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Key.
  • Accepted 11 July 1996


Objective: To investigate the association of dietary habits with mortality in a cohort of vegetarians and other health conscious people.

Design: Observational study.

Setting: United Kingdom.

Subjects: 4336 men and 6435 women recruited through health food shops, vegetarian societies, and magazines.

Main outcome measures: Mortality ratios for vegetarianism and for daily versus less than daily consumption of wholemeal bread, bran cereals, nuts or dried fruit, fresh fruit, and raw salad in relation to all cause mortality and mortality from ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, all malignant neoplasms, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer.

Results: 2064 (19%) subjects smoked, 4627 (43%) were vegetarian, 6699 (62%) ate wholemeal bread daily, 2948 (27%) ate bran cereals daily, 4091 (38%) ate nuts or dried fruit daily, 8304 (77%) ate fresh fruit daily, and 4105 (38%) ate raw salad daily. After a mean of 16.8 years follow up there were 1343 deaths before age 80. Overall the cohort had a mortality about half that of the general population. Within the cohort, daily consumption of fresh fruit was associated with significantly reduced mortality from ischaemic heart disease (rate ratio adjusted for smoking 0.76 (95% confidence interval 0.60 to 0.97)), cerebrovascular disease (0.68 (0.47 to 0.98)), and for all causes combined (0.79 (0.70 to 0.90)).

Conclusions: In this cohort of health conscious individuals, daily consumption of fresh fruit is associated with a reduced mortality from ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and all causes combined.

Key messages

  • This study examined dietary factors associated with mortality among 11 000 health conscious people followed for an average of 17 years.

  • After smoking was adjusted for, daily consumption of fresh fruit was associated with a 24% reduction in mortality from ischaemic heart disease, a 32% reduction in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, and a 21% reduction in all cause mortality compared with less frequent consumption.


    • Accepted 11 July 1996
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