Do Vegetarians Live Longer? A New Large Study Says So

California study suggests cutting out meat can add years to your life

People who follow a vegetarian diet apparently live longer than meat eaters, according to research from Loma Linda University in California.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, is one of the largest to date on the correlation between mortality and a vegetarian diet. The results showed that vegetarians had a 12 percent lower chance of death than meat eaters, no matter what sort of vegetarian diet they followed—semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian or vegan.

Led by Dr. Michael Orlich, program director for the school’s preventive medicine residency, the team of scientists tracked a pool of 73,308 Seventh-Day Adventist men and women from 2002 to 2007. Over the five years, 2,570 participants died, providing the researchers enough data to make a statistical assessment.

While Orlich said the overall finding was exciting, he was particularly interested in what the numbers said about non-cardiovascular and non-cancer causes of death.

“There was a substantial reduction in risk of dying from renal diseases or endocrine diseases,” he said. “I’m not aware that sort of thing has been shown before and the strength of the reduction was quite significant.”

In future studies, Orlich plans to investigate both the solidity of these findings and to examine which vegetarian diet was best.

“We are very interested in that question, but it will take a few more years to get that data,” he said. While it may sound morbid, the scientists cannot draw any more conclusions until more of the subjects die off.

Loma Linda University has a long history of working with the Seventh-Day Adventist community on scientific studies.

“It was noted in the 1950s that Adventists promote healthful living as part of their religious belief system,” Orlich said.  Presumably, this would mean that both Adventist meat-eaters and vegetarians generally followed healthy eating pattens, with different mortality rates between the two groups mainly the result of meat—or lack of it—in their diets.  Since the 50s, the university has worked with this group on numerous occasions—including in the 1970 study that helped inspire Orlich’s current research.