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The relative impact of a vegetarian diet on key markers of metabolic syndrome in a selected group of Australian adolescents

Grant, R1, Bilgin, A2, Zeuschner, C3, Guy, T4, Ashton, J4, Brown, S5,

1 Australasian Research Institute, Sydney, Australia
2 Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
3 Sydney Adventist Hospital, Sydney, Australia
4 Sanitarium Health Food Company, Berkley vale, Australia
5 University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia


Life-style diseases are becoming increasingly prevalent in the childhood population. A vegetable-rich diet produces an effective correction to many metabolic risk factors in adults. However the benefit of a predominantly vegetarian diet in children remains to be established. Studies investigating the effect of vegetarianism on the health of adolescents worldwide are minimal and essentially absent in the Australian context.


This study investigated the effects of eleven independent variables related to nutrition and exercise on sixteen markers of cardiovascular health in 14-15 year old children attending five Seventh-day Adventist high schools within the Sydney-Newcastle area. The sample consisted of a total of 215 teenagers. As Adventists advocate a vegetarian-diet for all age groups this demographic included a significant cohort of students with a predominantly vegetarian diet. Factorial ANOVA models were created to identify any significant main effects or interactions between independent variables.


A vegetarian diet, irrespective of exercise, resulted in significantly lower scores for biomarkers of vascular disease including BMI, waist circumference, Chol/HDL ratio, and LDL. No difference was observed in height-for-age or haemoglobin between groups. Vitamin B12 levels were significantly lower in students on a vegetarian diet. Nuts, when consumed once or more per week significantly reduced BMI and blood glucose levels independently of vegetarian status or exercise level.


This study indicates that a typical Australian vegetarian diet is associated with improved scores on recognised markers for cardiovascular disease in an adolescent population. However suboptimal intake of vitamin B12 is apparent in this group. Surprisingly exercise on its own did not have a significant effect on any of the metabolic risk factors tested suggesting that diet may be the most important factor in ensuring cardiovascular health in this age group.


Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of metabolic risk factors that underpin cardiovascular disease, the predominant adult lifestyle disease. These risk factors include, abdominal obesity, hypertryglyceridaemia, low HDL, high blood pressure and high fasting glucose.