Kiwis sure love their meat.
A new study has revealed that there aren’t many vegetarians and vegans in the country despite global trends touting health and climate benefits of plant-based diets.
According to new research in a University of Auckland-led study, the accurate figure for vegetarians in New Zealand is more likely 2% of the population, about 100,000 people – remarkably less than the 20% cited in market research.
Vegans rank even lower at under 1%.
The study, published on December 5, aimed to estimate the prevalence of vegetarians, vegans and other dietary patterns that exclude some animal-source foods in Kiwi adults. Researchers also examined socio-demographic and lifestyle correlates of these dietary patterns.
The research findings used data from recent NZ Health Surveys, capturing answers from about 20,000 Kiwis. But, unlike earlier surveys, participants were asked if they completely excluded red meat, poultry, fish/shellfish, eggs, or dairy products from their diet.
Explaining the findings, lead author, Dr Kathryn Bradbury from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Population Health, said “there has been some market research that has asked whether people identify as being a ‘vegetarian’, which is likely to overestimate the proportion of people who exclude all meat”.
The study found that about 93% of New Zealand adults eat red meat and a very small number exclude all animal products from their diets.
Bradbury says it’s important to have an accurate idea on the number of people who eat a strict plant-based diet, “because government guidelines recommend a plant-based diet, with moderate amounts of animal-sourced foods”.
She says the findings highlight the need for a comprehensive national nutrition survey, to better understand how New Zealanders are meeting recommended dietary guidelines.
The need for a greater understanding of the public’s dietary needs was also highlighted by Dr Ty Beal, a global nutrition and food system scientist, during a recent Beef + Lamb New Zealand webinar that identified some of the key benefits of sourcing more nutrients and protein from animals, while also pointing out some of the pitfalls greater consumption can bring.
Beal pointed to the need for closer consideration of where animal components can be included in diets that may be missing them at present.
“What we eat is one of the major risk factors for chronic disease in NZ, and we don’t have good up-to-date information on what we are eating, so we don’t know which dietary-related policies we should implement and whether any policies we have or are planning would help to reduce chronic disease in our population,” Bradbury said.
Read the study’s findings here.