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The EPIC study
from EVU News, Issue 4 / 1996 - Deutsch

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) is a large medical study aimed at expanding the presently limited knowledge of the role of nutrition and other lifestyle factors in the causes and prevention of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The study is being carried out in nine European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and The United Kingdom). Data on diet, other lifestyle and environmental factors, physical measurements, and blood samples are being collected from about four hundred thousand healthy adults in these countries. Participants will be followed up for cancer incidence and death, and the relation between incidence/death rates and dietary and biochemical factors investigated. EPIC will be the largest ever study of diet and health of its kind, and should clarify many of the uncertainties surrounding the relationship between the food we eat and the diseases that we suffer and die from.

Different groups of people (cohorts) are being recruited to EPIC in each of the participating countries. In the UK, the cohort includes a large number of vegetarians (recruited through vegetarian and health food societies, shops, and magazines) reflecting the interests of the coordinating group based at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Oxford, England. Thus far more than thirty-five thousand individuals have been recruited to the cohort, roughly half of whom are vegetarians.

The first results from the UK EPIC cohort were published in the British Medical Journal on 28 September 1996 in the form of a letter to the editor. Body mass index (a measure of body weight relative to height) and obesity rates in men and women were compared in four diet groups: meat eaters, fish eaters (who did not eat any meat), vegetarians, and vegans. Among both men and women, mean (average) body mass index was highest among the meat eaters, lowest among the vegans, and intermediate among the fish eaters and vegetarians, suggesting that vegetarians are generally lighter than non-vegetarians of the same height.

Among the meat eaters, 6.4% of the men and 9.2% of the women were clinically obese (body mass index above 30 kg/m2) after adjustment for age. These figures are well below the average for England (which was 13.2% of men and 16.0% of women in 1994), but fail to reach the targets set in the UK Government’s Health of the Nation strategy (which aims to reduce obesity rates in men and women to 6% and 8% respectively by the year 2005). In contrast, the prevalence of obesity was well within these targets in each of the groups that did not eat meat, suggesting that a meat-free diet is associated with a low prevalence of obesity. This is important because obesity increases the risk of a range of diseases.

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(Reference: Key T, Davey G. Prevalence of obesity is low in people who do not eat meat.
British Medical Journal 1996; 313:816-7.)

Paul Appleby, ICRF CEU, Gibson Building, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX2 6HE, England. (e-mail:

Paul Appleby is most willing to send a copy of the original article to any interested reader. Please contact him at the above addresse. - SDL