My colleague Hannah Ritchie and I just published a new short post on the dietary choices of British adults on Our World in Data.

The data comes from the tracker survey run by YouGov every 6 months (around 2,000 adults per survey) – we'll be updating these charts regularly with the latest data.

Key takeaways:

  • 70% of adults define themselves as meat-eaters, 16% as flexitarian, 5% as vegetarian, 3% as pescetarian, 2% as vegan, and 4% as 'none of these'.
  • There is a strong correlation with age: the younger the age group, the fewer meat-eaters. Only half of 18-24y say they are meat-eaters, against 4 in 5 people above 65y.
  • The survey was only run 6 times so far, so it's a bit early to look at trends over time, but in the youngest group, the share of meat-eaters has gone down from 67% in mid-2019 to 52% in late 2021. (Because this survey only tracks declarative statements, this may be due to a mix of actual changes in dietary habits, and changes in the way people perceive and label their dietary habits.)
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Thank you Edouard. Really excited to see Our World in Data tracking this. :)

When we track share of vegetarians, vegans, etc. in population there is an ever-present problem of social desirability bias. It seems that people tend to label themselves as vegan or vegetarian even when they are consuming animal-based products on a regular basis.

There is an excellent and rigorous research on this by Saulius Šimčikas - Is the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the US increasing? from 2018. One of his conclusion regarding consumption was quite striking:

Around 1% of adults both self-identify as vegetarians and report never consuming meat. It seems that this percentage has not changed substantially since the mid-1990s

Hopefully, it's no longer the case.

Maybe the title and the subtitle of your article on this should underline that it's the share of people who self-report to be on a certain diet? This could help avoid some confusion in the future.

Thanks for the feedback Jakub! I've added a clearer mention of the self-reporting aspect in the article & charts.

Someone I know has spoken to a dozen senior researchers and others in EA animal welfare.

The resulting understanding is that the actual number of vegans or vegetarians are consistent with the numbers in the above comment (1-2% in the USA, UK and CAD).

Another important fact seems to be that these numbers have not changed despite decades of dietary change information and campaigning at the individual, consumer level.

This seems to be relevant when making plans in animal welfare about which interventions to pursue.

Interesting how "none of these" is more popular in younger brackets - I wonder if there's some other category people identify with, or just more into not picking existing categories on surveys or something?

My (unverified) suspicion is that these people wanted to pick something that they considered to be a specific diet but that isn't related to meat-eating and therefore wasn't listed, e.g. 'gluten-free'. That could also explain the correlation with age if younger people tend to adopt these 'alternative' diets in a higher proportion.

Thanks for the post! Minor quibble, but it bothers me that "people" in the title is taken to mean "British adults". I would guess that the dietary choices of Brits aren't super indicative of the dietary choices of people in general, and since the Forum isn't a British platform, I don't think Brits are the default reference class for "people".

Thanks for the feedback! I've edited the title.

Thanks, this was really interesting; I love the visualization of how diets are changing over time!

I was inspired to start a prediction market on how my own diet will change (I'm currently pescatarian): https://manifold.markets/Austin/what-will-my-diet-look-like-over-th