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The word is commonly believed to be a compound of vegetable and the suffix -arian (as in agrarian).(John Davis shows that it was probably not derived from the Latin word vegetus.

Within the "ovo-" groups, there are many who refuse to consume fertilized eggs (with balut being an extreme example); however, such distinction is typically not specifically addressed.According to some studies, a vegetarian lifestyle can be associated with vitamin B 12 deficiency and low bone mineral density.Other studies, exploring animal protein's negative effects on bone health, suggest that vegetarians may be less prone to osteoporosis than omnivores, as vegetarian subjects had greater bone mineral density a 20-year study conducted by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the government of China has established a correlation between the consumption of animal products and a variety of chronic illnesses, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate and bowel (see The China Study).Semi-vegetarian diets include: On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids), fewer overall calories, more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, than do non-vegetarians.Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index.One review found a decreased overall risk of all cause mortality, cancer (except breast) and cardiovascular disease; A vegetarian diet which is poorly planned can lead to hyperhomocysteinemia and platelet disorders; this risk may be offset by ensuring sufficient consumption of vitamin B 12 and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada have stated that at all stages of life, a properly planned vegetarian diet is "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases".

These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians.

Studies on the health effects of vegetarian diets observe heterogeneous effects on mortality.

The earliest occurrences of the term seem to be related to Alcott House, a school on the north side of Ham Common, London, opened in July 1838 by James Pierrepont Greaves.

From 1841, it was known as A Concordium, or Industry Harmony College, from which time the institution began to publish its own pamphlet, "The Healthian", which provides some of the earliest appearances of the term "vegetarian".

This article is about the deliberate diet for human beings. Many people object to eating meat out of respect for sentient life.