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Adolescent vegetarianism.

The authors of this study examined the role of vegetarianism in the lives of adolescents. They wanted to learn about the "use" of vegetarianism by teenagers. They collected data through surveys and qualitative interviews. During that process the investigators asked about food consumption, attitudes toward foods, dieting behaviors, concerns about personal appearance, vegetarian status, gender roles, attitudes toward the environment, and vegetarian views and experiences.

They reported that people who are vegetarians often portray meat as unhealthy and high in cholesterol. In addition, many vegetarians suggest that meat consumption is cruel to animals, harms the environment (e.g., by clearing rain forests for pasture), and consumes energy (cattle eat one-third of the world's grain harvest). The population studied in this research, adolescents, are somewhat different from adults in their views of vegetarianism. Adolescence is seen as a time to balance self-expression with the needs of others and the community; it is also a period of rebellion. Vegetarianism is viewed by many adults as an acceptable form of rebellion for teens.

Of those surveyed, 825 females said they were not vegetarians, 50 reported they were full vegetarians, and 195 were semi-vegetarians (no red meat, white meat on occasion). Just twenty-six men said they were full- or semi-vegetarians, so they were not used in the data analysis.

The authors found that full- and semi-vegetarians (FSV) consumed more legumes, chicken, and rice, as well as less whole milk and fewer meats, than non-vegetarians (NV). FSV teens had strong anti-meat attitudes and were more pro-vegetable and pro-fruit than non-vegetarians. FSVs had more mild, extreme, and overall dieting behaviors than NVs. FSV women supported nontraditional roles for women, while NV women supported more traditional patriarchal views about gender roles. FSV adolescents were more conscious and concerned about their personal appearance than NV women. The authors concluded that there could be a relationship between eating disorders and vegetarianism.

Other studies found that 50 percent of anorexic women were vegetarians and that becoming a vegetarian was a primary method to lose weight. Adolescent vegetarianism is mostly an issue for females. It involves meat avoidance, a concern for the environment and animal welfare, gender equality, weight loss behaviors, and a concern with body appearance. The authors were struck by the connection of vegetarianism with dieting behaviors.

Implications for camp

Meals and proper nutrition for campers and staff are ongoing concerns for all camp administrators and cooks. Cooks and kitchen crews seek to serve the best tasting, most nutritious meals possible. Adolescent campers can pose special challenges to cooks and camp dietitians especially those who claim to be vegetarians. While vegetarianism is a legitimate dietary approach for mature adults, it appears as though there is a reason to be concerned about female teenaged vegetarians. The research indicates that adolescent vegetarianism can lead to eating disorders and an unhealthy perception of physical appearance. Counselors and cooks should be alert for manifestations of extreme weight loss behaviors in teenagers who indicate they are vegetarians. In addition, some camp programs might include nutrition counseling to balance the sometimes erroneous views of meat held by adolescent girls.

Worsley. A. & Skrzypiec, G. (1997). Teenage vegetarianism: Beauty or the beast? Nutrition Research, 17(3), 391-404.

Deb Jordan, Re.D., is an associate professor of leisure studies at Oklahoma State University. Send your letters and one-page summaries of research related to camp to: Research Notes, c/o Dr. Deb Jordan, Leisure Studies, 107 Colvin Center, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078. Note: Only research completed within the past two years will be considered for review.
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Author:Jordan, Debra J.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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