Oxford Vegetarian Study

The Oxford Vegetarian Study (OVS), also known as the Study of Cancer in Vegetarians, began in 1980; 11,040 participants were recruited through the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, publicity in local and national media and by word of mouth between September 1980 and January 1984. Participants joined the study by voluntarily completing and returning a diet and lifestyle questionnaire. The aim of the study is to investigate the long-term health of vegetarians and comparable non-vegetarians, with particular interest in cancer risk and mortality. The design is an observational cohort, based on recruiting healthy volunteer participants and following their long-term health through linkage to NHS information on incident cancers and causes of death. Participants in the study were flagged with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the cancer registries. Analysis of data arising from the study, occasionally in combination with data from the EPIC-Oxford study, has led to many publications in peer reviewed journals such as the British Medical Journal and British Journal of Cancer.

Data were initially collected by questionnaires on diet and lifestyle, returned by post in 1980-1984 by all 11,040 participants. Blood samples were collected by post in 1984-1986 from 3,773 participants and plasma prepared and stored; assays were conducted and papers reporting the findings were published between 1987 and 1992, and the plasma samples have subsequently been destroyed. Food diaries (four day records) were collected by post in 1985-1986 from 5,551 participants.

In 1994, we wrote to all surviving participants in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, informing them of the findings to date and enclosing a list of published papers, and inviting them to join the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC)-Oxford study.

Data gathered on the cohort from 1980 to 2016 has resulted in 18 publications in peer reviewed journals as listed in the OVS publications section.

Results arising from the most notable publications have shown that:

  • cross-sectional analyses of study data and assays using the plasma samples showed that vegans had lower total- and LDL-cholesterol concentrations than did meat eaters; vegetarians and fish eaters having intermediate and similar values (Thorogood et al, 1987)
  • plasma total cholesterol was strongly positively associated with the Keys score (Thorogood et al, 1990)
  • meat and cheese consumption were positively associated and dietary fibre intake was inversely associated with total cholesterol concentration in both men and women (Appleby et al, 1995)

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