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The Social and Psychological Well-Being of Vegetarians: A Focused Ethnography Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Torti, Jacqueline MI
Supervisor and department
Carroll, Linda (School of Public Health)
Examining committee member and department
Mayan, Maria (Faculty of Extension)
Caulfield, Timothy (Faculty of Law)
School of Public Health
Public Health
Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Background: A vegetarian is a person who refrains from eating any type of animal flesh. Research has been established on the physical health implications of adopting a vegetarian diet. However, to date, there has been no qualitative study exploring social and psychological well-being of vegetarians. Purpose: The purpose of this thesis was a) to provide a systematic review of the existing studies on the psychological well-being of vegetarians and b) to conduct original research that further explored the following: i) vegetarians’ rationales for adopting their diet, ii) their self-perceived social well-being, and, iii) their self-perceived psychological well-being. Methods: a) The systematic review involved searching several databases for primary research studies that examined the psychological well-being of vegetarians. Titles and abstracts were screened for relevance to the review and then full texts of those articles considered potentially relevant were screened. The quality of the selected studies was assessed using Health Evidence Bulletins (Wales) questions to assist with the critical appraisal of an observational study. b) After a pilot study was conducted, a focused ethnographic approach was utilized to conduct this research. Data were collected through 19 individual interviews, three focus groups, as well as a series of participant observations at several vegan- and vegetarian-association events in Alberta. Interviews and focus groups were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim, fieldnotes were taken during participant observations and materials were collected. Data were then analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Results: a) After reviewing our search for relevant articles, seven studies were identified for inclusion in this study- all of which were cross-sectional. One study had low risk and one study had moderate risk of bias (both reported poorer health in vegetarians). Five studies (with inconsistent findings) had high risk of bias. Most differences in mental health measures were small and of doubtful clinical significance. b) Individuals decided to become vegetarian for a variety of reasons including improved personal health, improved animal welfare, and reduced environmental impact through diet. Vegetarians experienced many social challenges, including being teased and dealing with unsupportive friends and family, which could pose a threat to their social well-being. However, vegetarians also experienced many psychological rewards including a sense of pride and peace of mind knowing their values aligned with their actions. Conclusion: There is little available evidence on the psychological well-being of vegetarians. Most studies have high risk of bias, and the evidence that does exist is inconsistent, although the higher quality studies suggest poorer psychological well-being among vegetarians. Further research is needed to investigate whether a causal relationship exists between vegetarianism and mental health. Individuals become vegetarian for a variety of reasons. Others may not agree with their diet choice and this can affect their self-perceived social well-being. However, the self-perceived benefits to psychological well-being associated with adopting a vegetarian diet seem to outweigh any of the perceived threats to their social well-being.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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