No. But Time Magazine certainly likes shocking article titles.
What this Time article covers is a study performed in Minnesota back in 2008. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas observed that young vegetarians are at increased risk for binge eating and unhealthy weight control behaviors. Ick.
Using the results of Project EAT-II: Eating Among Teens, researchers analyzed the diets, weight status, weight control behaviors, and drug and alcohol use of 2,516 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 23. Participants were identified as current (4.3%), former (10.8%), and never (84.9%) vegetarians. Subjects were divided into two cohorts, an adolescent (15-18) group and a young adult (19-23) group. They were questioned about binge eating and whether they felt a loss of control of their eating habits.
In the younger cohort, no statistically significant difference was observed with vegetarianism and weight status. Among young adults, however, current vegetarians had a lower average BMI. They were less likely to be obese than never vegetarians. Off the top of my head, I would guess that this has to do with discipline and more sincere adherence to the vegetarian diet. Many who convert to vegetarianism in young adulthood do so during “enlightenment” at university. I suspect that a lot of vegetarians in high schools, on the other hand, lack the moral steadfastness, supportive community, and resources of university students. In fact, a 2001 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that the most common reason teens gave for vegetarianism was to lose weight or keep from gaining it.
Among the younger cohort, vegetarians engaged both in more extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors and in bingeing behavior when compared to never vegetarians. Among the older cohort, a higher percentage of former vegetarians engaged in the same disordered eating habits. This seems to indicate that adolescents who practice vegetarianism are at greater risk of all types of disordered eating throughout their lives.
Young vegetarians and those who have practiced vegetarianism in their youths experience an increased risk for disordered eating. This points to something pretty obvious. Vegetarianism serves as a means, if a poor one, at losing weight (recall that there’s no statistically significant BMI difference) for young adults. Those who battle body image and self esteem turn to vegetarianism to help them. It is a means to weight loss. But it is also a mode of restriction. Whether or not this indicates life-long disordered eating and restriction patterns, or whether it indicates that this behavior in high school encourages lasting feelings of deprivation and restriction is unclear. What is clear is that vegetarianism masquerades as a healthy option for young adults, and helps them restrict without broadcasting to those around them that they may in fact be in trouble. I do not like this, friends. Not one bit.
Writing in the article, Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, Assistant Professor, Nutrition Department, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University of the University of Minnesota states, “Study results indicate that it would be beneficial for clinicians to ask adolescents and young adults about their current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors. Furthermore, when guiding adolescent and young adult vegetarians in proper nutrition and meal planning, it may also be important to investigate an individual’s motives for choosing a vegetarian diet.” Yes. Word! Furthermore, stop promoting deprivation-inducing eating plans as healthful. Ack!