Meat-free diet may raise hip fracture risk

Vegetarianism has been linked to increased risk of hip fracture in a new UK study.

Dr James Webster of the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues investigated the possible link because hip fracture rates are rising, alongside the increasing popularity of meat-free diets.

Some previous evidence suggests that vegetarians may have a higher risk of fractures, but large prospective studies are limited.

The researchers used figures on 413,914 men and women from the UK Biobank who were occasional meat-eaters, pescatarians who eat meat but not fish, or vegetarians, and compared their outcomes to frequent meat-eaters.

Analysis suggested that vegetarians had a 50% raised risk of hip fracture than regular meat eaters. Occasional meat-eaters and pescatarians were not at a raised risk.

This link to vegetarianism did not seem to be affected by age or sex, but a low body mass index appeared to raise the fracture risk.

“Ensuring adequate nutrient intake and weight management are therefore particularly important in vegetarians in the context of hip fracture prevention,” the authors write in BMC Medicine.

This research gives the first indication that vegetarian men also face a greater risk of hip fracture, they add.

Dr Webster said: “Hip fractures are a growing problem in an ageing society and can trigger debilitating health conditions and a loss of quality of life.

“This study shows that whilst vegetarians face a greater risk of hip fracture than meat-eaters – at 50% – this translates to just three more hip fractures per 1,000 people over ten years.

“Our analysis suggests that low body mass index may be a key factor in why their risk is higher. Additionally, vegetarians were about 17% less likely to meet protein recommendations than meat-eaters.”

Webster, J. et al. Risk of hip fracture in meat-eaters, pescatarians, and vegetarians: a prospective cohort study of 413,914 UK Biobank participants. BMC Medicine 27 July 2023; doi: 10.1186/s12916-023-02993-6


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