Flexitarianism on the rise

Flexitarianism on the rise

VUB longterm research shows that Flemish people are increasingly forgoing meat and fish for health and environmental reasons

A 10-year study among Flemish adults, led by three VUB professors, indicates that in the last decade a change has been noticeable in eating patterns, namely from omnivorous eating habits with daily meat or fish to more flexitarianism, with at least three days a week without meat or fish. Stricter plant-based diets such as veganism and vegetarianism retained a relatively small but stable number of adherents throughout the study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve noticed a shift in the omnivorous eating pattern of Flemish adults towards more plant-based eating habits. This trend is mainly visible among young, higher educated female participants who live in urban areas. Given the very clear positive effects on public health and the environment, it is important to promote plant-based diets population-wide and to target groups that currently have little contact with this lifestyle,” says researcher Tom Deliens. 


The study by Tom Deliens, Patrick Mullie and Peter Clarys of the VUB research group MOVE (Movement and Nutrition for Health and Performance), in cooperation with Ethical Vegetarian Alternative (EVA), spans 10 years during which they analysed the eating habits of 4,859 participants over five measurement points (2011, 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2020). The respondents were selected from a representative consumer panel of the market research company iVOX. The members who were invited to participate were selected via a multi-stage sampling procedure that aimed to be representative of the general Flemish adult population in terms of sex, age, education and urbanisation.

More flexitarianism as of 2016

Deliens: “While in 2011 the majority of the population consisted of omnivores, in 2016 we see a peak in the consumption of plant-based products, and more participants consider themselves to be flexitarians. Veganism or vegetarianism may still be too big a step for some, whereas flexitarianism seems a viable compromise for reduced meat/fish consumption.”

After 2016, however, the growing number of flexitarians stagnates. The researchers assume that the sudden peak was mainly due to the many awareness-raising campaigns launched in Flanders, such as Days Without Meat, Thursday Veggieday, Try Vegan, etc., although many campaigns had been launched before 2016. Increased media attention and reaching a receptive and open-minded target group may have stimulated the rise of plant-based diets. Public health, environmental conservation and sustainability require a further shift from omnivorous to more plant-based diets for the entire population. The majority of participants who tend to adopt plant-based diets are younger women with higher education from urban areas. New campaigns could focus on older and less educated men from rural areas to raise awareness and broaden the spread of plant-based eating habits there as well.

Deliens: “Integrating more plant-based food into our diets may even play a key role in the fight against climate change.”


Tom Deliens

[email protected]

0472 86 75 16

Link to research: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-021-02630-z

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