It’s official – vegetarians really are smarter. But it is not because of what they eat. Bright children are more likely to reject meat and opt to become vegetarians when they grow up, a study has shown. Clever veggies are born not made.
The finding helps explain how a team of vegetarians won the BBC Test the Nation competition in September, when they beat off competition from six other teams including butchers, public school pupils and footballers’ wives to achieve the highest overall IQ score.
… Researchers from the University of Southampton who conducted the study agree. They suggest that vegetarians are more thoughtful about what they eat. But they say it is unclear whether bright children choose to become vegetarians for the health benefits or for other reasons, such as a concern for animals, or as a lifestyle choice.
The scientists began investigating the link between IQ and vegetarianism because people with higher intelligence have a lower risk of heart disease, which has long puzzled doctors.
There are a few other interesting bits of information, including a finding that vegetarians are likely to be better educated and of “higher social class.” If you ask me, I think that makes sense in part because those two factors make more likely to be able to spend much time thinking about what you eat, and to put more effort in buying particular kinds of foods. You probably have a grocery store in your neighborhood, maybe even a Whole Foods, and/or transportation to get you there and back home.
But, it’s easier to eat healthy if you live in the suburbs, where there are grocery stores and health food stores, and have the money to spend. In other words, it’s easier to make healthier choices when healthier choices are readily available. When they’re not, it’s not.
The United States may be the land of plenty, but in many parts of the country–particularly the low-income neighborhoods–fresh fruits and vegetables are hard-to-find luxury items. Grocery chains resist opening stores where sales of high-markup gourmet products can’t be guaranteed, and they often close existing supermarkets in poor areas. For residents of these neighborhoods, the choice comes down to traveling long distances to buy groceries or shopping at expensive corner stores that sell high-fat, high-sugar convenience food and little or no fresh produce. The consequences are the wages of poverty: diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
“It’s a question of money,” Drewnowski said. “The reason healthier diets are beyond the reach of many people is that such diets cost more. On a per calorie basis, diets composed of whole grains, fish, and fresh vegetables and fruit are far more expensive than refined grains, added sugars and added fats. It’s not a question of being sensible or silly when it comes to food choices, it’s about being limited to those foods that you can afford.”
… Many strategies for health promotion over the years have presumed that good nutrition was simply a matter of making the right choices. Drewnowski noted that access to healthier diets could be sharply limited in low-income neighborhoods simply because of the food environment and the nature of the available food supply.
“It is the opposite of choice,” Drewnowski said. “People are not poor by choice and they become obese primarily because they are poor.”
So, while I was a bit tickled by the “vegetarians are smarter” story line, I wanted to acknowledge there is a little more to the story. People make smarter choices not just because they’re smarter, but because those choices are within reach.