Can the vegan diet prevent obesity?

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» Can the vegan diet prevent obesity?

Dr Terri Holloway weighs up the evidence and discusses The Vegan Society's role in lobbying the government on obesity prevention.

In a society where weight loss tactics and the 'next big diet craze' monopolise the media daily, it seems that the cure for obesity is still far from being discovered. Though being vegan doesn’t guarantee weight loss or weight management, many suggest that the vegan diet and other plant-based regimes might offer guidance toward a sustainable solution. Several studies confirm this, reporting that compared to other dietary groups, vegans are leaner, have lower BMIs and have lower percentages of body fat. The reasons for this include the abundance of fibre, vegetables, fruit and legumes regularly consumed by vegans who are also more likely to meet national recommendations for fruit and veg, which recent reports tell us has now increased to 7-10 portions daily.  

Causes for obesity

Obesity is a complex problem that requires action at many levels, including government, non-government organisations, institutional, and importantly industry. The implications of obesity are comprised of the many physical, psychological, and social consequences to individuals as well as the economic cost to society. Current losses are extensive in each of these categories, and sadly, these effects are expected to intensify in future as experts project that by 2050, 60% of men and 50% of women will be obese. The impending financial losses are equally discouraging as the price of obesity and related illnesses will cost the NHS £10 billion per year by 2050 and the wider UK society £50 billion per year. Whilst some intervention strategies have had some success in the short term, no intervention has yet demonstrated long-term effectiveness and the repercussions of this are ongoing.

Obesity forum presents solutions

As The Vegan Society’s Nutrition Specialist, I talked to an audience of civil servants, industry representatives and health professionals about the role that vegan diets should play in tackling obesity at a recent Policy UK Forum titled ‘Obesity: Implications, Intervention and Prevention’.

Speakers at the forum covered working with communities to increase access to resources, schemes to increase physical activity in children, and ‘slimming’ programmes. The main focus of the morning appeared to be around the role of sugar in obesity, and ways to limit its consumption. 

The UK Government’s approach to tackling obesity is currently uncoordinated and lacking direction. It is due to launch its new strategy which includes several guidance papers under an evolving policy titled ‘Obesity and Healthy Eating’, which includes measures to reduce childhood and adult obesity and implement product reformulation to reduce sugar content. The government has so far resisted strong pressure to introduce a ‘sugar tax’ on fizzy drinks. Nonetheless, the forum’s attendees were left with the impression that current approaches to tackling obesity are missing a chance to improve diets overall. 

In addition to being linked with lower weight/BMI, vegan diets offer a wealth of other health benefits, such as reduced blood cholesterol levels and an increase in fibre and disease-preventing antioxidants. We feel that although The Vegan Society was a lone voice at this forum in advocating vegan diets as part of an ‘obesity strategy’, we are likely to see increasing interest in this approach in the future. The UK and other countries around the world will likely recognise the need to find policy solutions to various health problems (and their associated costs) such as obesity, that also meet commitments to climate change targets. 

Grow Green 

The Vegan Society is currently campaigning to increase the production of healthy plant proteins associated with weight reduction, such as lentils and pulses, through our Grow Green campaign, launched in Autumn, 2015. The key aim of Grow Green is to encourage the UK government to provide incentives for farmers who wish to transition away from farming with animals to farming plant-based protein in order to reduce the largest category of greenhouse gas emissions, produced through animal production. 

Though obesity is a complex issue with many contributing factors, it is proven that the vegan diet provides remarkable protection against overweight and obesity, and therefore, it is definitely a step in the right direction toward solving this national dilemma. 


By Dr Terri Holloway

Originally from sunny Philadelphia in the US, Terri joined The Vegan Society after obtaining a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Nottingham, where she researched the many exciting benefits of plant-based diets.

Our Grow Green campaign needs your help! Please write to your MP using our handy form and discussion points on the benefits of transitioning from non-human animal to crop farming.  

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