Researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil have investigated the prevalence of dysfunctional dietary behaviour among people following a vegan diet and concluded that “disordered eating attitudes” were found among only 0.6% of almost 1,000 vegan participants of the study, less than a tenth of the estimated proportion of the Brazilian population (6.5%).
Some people have speculated that veganism could be used to legitimize rejection of certain foods and social situations that involve eating, masking dysfunctional dietary behaviour and even eating disorders by facilitating restriction. However, this study contradicts this.
Hamilton Roschel, a professor at the Medical School (FM-USP) and head of the Applied Physiology and Nutrition Research Group, said to EurekAlert, “The results of the study absolve veganism of blame by showing that the presence of dysfunctional dietary behaviour is mainly associated with the reasons for dieting, rather than the type of diet…Understanding motivations for choosing a diet and the reasons for patients’ dietary choices helps us design more focused and effective nutritional care programs…Of course, nutritional adequacy and possible deficiencies in restrictive diets should also be analysed, but as far as mental health is concerned it’s clear that what matters most is understanding why individuals make their particular choices, monitoring their status, and if necessary referring them to a suitable specialist.”
The study, titled “Disordered Eating Attitudes and Food Choice Motives Among Individuals Who Follow a Vegan Diet in Brazil” and authored by Bruna Caruso Mazzolani and collaborators, was published in June 2023 at Jama Network Open. In the study, 62% of the participants said their motivation for following a vegan diet was “ethics and animal rights”, whereas only 10% said “health reasons.” This helps explain the low prevalence of dysfunctional dietary behaviour in the study sample.