Vegetarian men and women have a higher risk of fracturing their hips

LEEDS, United Kingdom — Men and women may be putting themselves at a greater risk of serious hip injuries by avoiding meat, a new study reveals. Scientists at the University of Leeds report both men and women following a vegetarian diet face a 50-percent greater risk of a hip fracture in comparison to others who regularly eat meat.

Previous reports have pointed to women who follow a vegetarian diet experiencing an elevated risk of hip fracture, but the exact reasons for this trend have remained unclear. Meanwhile, projects focusing on the impact of a vegetarian diet on men have largely been small in scale and yielded inconclusive findings.

So, the team analyzed a dataset encompassing over 413,914 people (both men and women). The resulting insights provide the first indication that vegetarian men also face a greater risk of hip fracture than men who regularly eat meat. This work has also identified some specific factors that may be putting vegetarians – regardless of gender – at increased risk of hip fracture.

Study participants were originally recruited between 2006 and 2010 (in conjunction with the UK Biobank project) and provided details on their dieting information. The team used this data to group people into various cohorts: a regular meat eater consuming meat five or more times a week, an occasional meat eater consuming meat fewer than five times per week, pescatarians eating fish but not meat, or vegetarians consuming dairy foods but not fish or meat.

Data for each person was linked up with their hospital records, and all hip fracture cases were recorded during the follow-up period in 2021.

Protein sources - meat, fish, cheese, nuts, beans and greens.
Protein sources in food (© nadianb –

Among all (413,914) study participants, there were 3,503 hip fractures, accounting for an overall incidence rate of less than one percent (0.8%). While the overall risk of suffering a hip fracture was low, the relative risk between vegetarians and regular meat eaters was actually quite large.

Study authors report:

  • Vegetarians had a 50-percent greater risk than regular meat-eaters, regardless of sex.
  • There was no difference in risk between occasional and regular meat-eaters.
  • Pescatarians had a slightly greater risk (8%) than regular meat-eaters, but this was determined to be non-significant.

After calculating how these relative differences may translate to real-world cases, study authors predicted an average of 6.5 regular meat eaters and 6.5 occasional meat eaters would experience a hip fracture, as well as seven cases among pescatarians and 9.5 cases among vegetarians.

“Hip fractures are a growing problem in an aging society, and can trigger debilitating health conditions and a loss of quality of life,” says James Webster, a doctoral researcher in the School of Food Science and Nutrition who led the study, in a media release.

“This study shows that whilst vegetarians face a greater risk of hip fracture than meat-eaters – at 50% – this translates to just 3 more hip fractures per 1000 people over 10 years. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet, including a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, may still outweigh any increases in hip fracture risk.”

“Our analysis suggests that low BMI may be a key factor in why their risk is higher,” Webster continues.

“Additionally, vegetarians were about 17% less likely to meet protein recommendations than meat-eaters. So, important messages from our study are that vegetarians need to ensure they are getting a balanced diet with enough protein and maintain a healthy BMI. This will help vegetarians to maintain healthy bones and muscles.”

a plate of steak and vegetables
(Photo by Nerfee Mirandilla on Unsplash)

“Hip fracture is a major health issue and diet may have a part to play in affecting risk,” concludes Professor Janet Cade, who leads the Nutritional Epidemiology Group at the University of Leeds and supervised the research.

“This research, using the large UK Biobank, confirms our previous work, showing that a vegetarian diet increases risk of hip fracture compared to regular meat eaters, in both men and women. Whilst vegetarian diets have health benefits, understanding diet quality and the balance of key nutrients may help to reduce risk and improve future bone health.”

The study is published in the journal BMC Medicine.

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