First Ever Study of Former Vegetarians and Vegans Finds 84% Who Adopt the Diet Return to Eating Meat

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A new study by the Humane Research Council, the first ever to estimate the number of former vegetarians and vegans in the United States, found that 84% of people who adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet end up abandoning it and returning to meat.

For those who abandoned the diet, a number of reasons were cited, including boredom with food options (38%); cravings for meat (37%); feelings that the diet made them “stick out from the crowd” (63%); and doubts about health benefits of the diet (21%).

Using a representative sample of over 11,000 respondents aged 17 and over, the study also found that about 2% of the US population (about 5 million people) is currently a vegetarian or vegan, while 10.2% of the population is a former vegetarian or vegan.

For current vegetarians and vegans, a variety of motivations for adopting the diet were listed, including health (69%); animal protection (68%); feelings of disgust for meat/animal products (63%); concern for the environment (59%); and taste preferences (52%).

According to Hal Herzog, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University, “the implications of this study are important. Only 2% of Americans do not eat any animal products. (This number has not changed appreciably for 20 years). Further, the fact that five out of six vegetarians go back to eating meat suggests that an all-veggie diet is very hard for most people to maintain over the long haul.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently includes meat as part of a balanced diet, but also states that a vegetarian diet can meet “the recommended dietary allowances for nutrients.”

Americans eat an average of 52.3 pounds of beef, 57.4 pounds of chicken, and 43.5 pounds of pork, per person annually, according to 2012 estimates from the USDA.

Sources:

Kathryn Asher, Che Green, Hans Gutbrod, Mirna Jewell, Galina Hale, and Brock Bastian, “Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans,” humaneresearch.org, Dec. 2014

Earth Policy Institute, “Peak Meat: US Meat Consumption Falling,” earth-policy.org, Mar. 7, 2012

Hal Herzog, “84% of Vegetarians and Vegans Return to Meat. Why?,” psychologytoday.com, Dec. 2, 2014

Frank Newport, “In US, 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians,” gallup.com, July 26, 2012