There is a growing interest in the environmental, ethical, and health impacts of our diets.
To understand patterns of food consumption we can look at market sales data – how much meat, dairy, and plant products we sell. This tells us about countries as a whole – we present this type of data here – but this doesn’t tell us about the variation within a population.
If we want to know about this variation we can rely on survey data on how people describe their dietary preferences. There is, unfortunately, a lack of long-term data on this. But we can look at recent developments.
YouGov, the polling group in the UK, surveys around 2000 adults every six months about their dietary preferences. In this article, we present the latest data and we will update this data every six months with the most recent results.
These surveys ask adults which of six options best describes their dietary preferences. The six options are meat-eater, flexitarian, pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan, or none of these. Each respondent is only allowed to pick one of the six options. In the accompanying box, we provide a description of each of these diets, as YouGov describes them in their survey.
The results are shown in the chart. 5% described themselves as vegetarian; 3% as pescetarian, and 2% as vegan. Together these sum up to 10% – this means that 10% of British adults report that they do not eat meat (but some of them do eat fish).
A further 16% described themselves as flexitarians, meaning they were mostly vegetarian, but occasionally ate meat or fish.
These results are very similar to those from other countries.
In a 2018 Gallup poll from the US, 5% of American adults identified as vegetarian, and 2% as vegan.
In a wider 2018 poll from Ipsos Mori – spanning 28 countries – 5% of respondents identified as vegetarian, 3% as vegan, and a further 3% as a pescetarian. However, this poll showed very different results for some countries. For example, one in five people in India identified as vegetarian.
The YouGov survey describes these dietary choices in the following way:
- Meat-eater: eats meat and poultry (and does not describe as being mainly vegetarian)
- Flexitarian: mainly vegetarian, but occasionally eat meat or fish
- Pescetarian: eat fish but do not eat meat or poultry
- Vegetarian: do not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, or shellfish
- Plant-based / Vegan: do not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other animal product
When we look at these survey results by age we see that younger people are more likely to identify as non- or only occasional meat-eaters. The breakdown of UK responses by age is shown in the chart.
One in five 18-to-24-year-olds described a diet that did not contain meat (but some of them do eat fish). 10% were vegetarian, 4% pescetarian, and 5% were vegan. A further 20% were flexitarian.
Contrast that with the oldest age group (the over-65s) where only a few percent were vegetarian, and a few percent pescetarian.
Again, this finding that younger adults are more likely to identify as vegetarian or vegan is consistent with results from other countries. Polls from the US and other countries find the same result. Averaged across the 28 countries included in the 2018 Ipsos survey, 6% of under-35s reported to be vegetarian, compared to 3% in the over-35s.
What is also striking is how quickly dietary preferences are changing amongst young people. In particular, we see a sharp rise in the share identifying as ‘flexitarian’ in only a few years. In mid-2019, 10% of young adults self-reported as flexitarian. In December 2021, this had doubled to 20%.1 The share identifying as frequent meat-eaters fell from two-thirds of young adults (67%) to just over half (52%).
From an environmental perspective, this is good news. Eating less meat is one of the most effective ways that someone can reduce their carbon footprint.
Keep reading at Our World in Data
We would like to thank Max Roser, Pablo Rosado, Bastian Herre, and Marcel Gerber for feedback and suggestions on this work.