Examining vegetarianism, weight motivations, and eating disorder psychopathology among college students

Hana F. Zickgraf, Vivienne M. Hazzard, Shannon M. O'Connor, Melissa Simone, Gail A. Williams-Kerver, Lisa M. Anderson, Sarah K. Lipson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Previous research has suggested a link between vegetarianism, broadly defined, and symptoms of eating disorders (ED). However, the literature supporting this link is mixed and limited by possible measurement artifacts. Using data from a national sample of college students, the present study examines ED symptomatology among three groups: (a) vegetarians whose meat avoidance is motivated by weight concerns; (b) non-weight motivated vegetarians; and (c) nonvegetarians. Method: Participants include 9,910 students from 12 colleges and universities across the United States who participated in the web-based Healthy Bodies Study. ED symptomatology was measured using the Short-Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire (S-EDE-Q). First, multi-group confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to test measurement invariance (MI) of the S-EDE-Q across weight-motivated vegetarians, non-weight-motivated vegetarians, and nonvegetarians. Gender- and BMI-adjusted ANCOVA was used to compare S-EDE-Q scores across groups. Results: 9.3% of participants were vegetarian. Cis-women and gender minority students were more likely to be vegetarian; those who became vegetarians after entering college were more likely to report weight-related motivations. Strict MI was supported for the S-EDE-Q global and subscale scores. Weight-motivated vegetarians reported higher levels of restraint, shape/weight overvaluation, body dissatisfaction, and global ED psychopathology relative to other participants. Discussion: To our knowledge, this is the first to explicitly link weight motivations for vegetarianism to ED psychopathology in a large, representative sample of young adults. Results suggest that students presenting with ED symptoms should be assessed for their motivations for adopting a vegetarian diet, and this information should be considered in treatment decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1506-1514
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors H. F. Z., V. M. H., S. M. O., M. S., and L. M. A. were supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health of the National Institutes of Health under award number T32 MH082761. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC


  • EDE-Q
  • S-EDE-Q
  • college student
  • eating disorder
  • healthy bodies study
  • measurement invariance
  • vegan
  • vegetarian
  • weight concern

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