A vegetarian diet on prescription?

How many people follow a vegetarian diet in Germany and how is a plant-based diet currently appraised from a public health perspective? Do people in Germany have an adequate vitamin D and folate status? What proportion of the population actually cooks with fresh food? The second issue of the Journal of Health Monitoring focuses on diet and nutrition. First published in September 2016, this new online journal extends the Robert Koch Institute’s publication forms on health-related issues in Germany. The Journal of Health Monitoring is published quarterly in German and English. All contributions to the journal are subject to peer review and can be downloaded free of charge from the website of the Robert Koch Institute ().

This current issue features two in-depth articles, one on vegetarian diet and one on breastfeeding. Furthermore, it includes four fact sheets on vitamin D status, sodium intake, folate status and cooking frequency. The fact sheets present key findings, for example, the fact that 30.2% of adults have a deficient vitamin D status. Moreover, the sodium intake of large parts of the German population is too high, based on German and international recommendations. In addition, most women of reproductive age do not meet the World Health Organization’s recommended population level for folate to reduce the risk for neural tube defects. Finally, a total of 50.8% of adults prepare their own meals daily or almost daily from fresh foods.

For the article on vegetarian diet, epidemiologists at the RKI evaluated data from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Adults (DEGS1). When asked ‘Do you usually follow a vegetarian diet?’, 4.3% of adult respondents aged between 18 and 79 answered ‘Yes’. A vegetarian diet is more widespread among women (6.1 %) than men (2.5%). The article covers both the prevalence of a vegetarian diet and the implications of a vegetarian diet on health.

Nutritionists and health experts once assumed that vegetarians might have a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies. Recent studies, however, have observed a general healthy nutrient balance among both vegetarians and vegans. Current emphasis is on the potential of a vegetarian or predominantly vegetarian diet to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Studies from several countries show that prescribing a vegetarian diet can help reduce a person’s body mass index (BMI).

Frequently, a vegetarian diet attaches also great importance to socio-political and environmental benefits. A reduction in meat consumption in Germany would also be reasonable from a public health perspective, since average meat consumption is considerably higher than the level recommended by the German Nutrition Society. These advantages would be further enhanced if, in addition to the relatively small group of people who entirely refrain from eating meat, a larger part of the population would also reduce their meat consumption.

The new journal will cover all questions of public health including physical and mental health, health behaviour, risk and protective factors, as well as medical and nursing care.

Robert Koch Institute
Nordufer 20
D-13353 Berlin

Twitter: @rki_de

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(Press officer)
Günther Dettweiler
(Deputy press officer)
Heidi Golisch
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Contact details
Phone: 030-18754-2239, -2562 or -2286
Email: presse@rki.de

The Robert Koch Institute is a federal institute within the portfolio of the German Federal Ministry of Health

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