8-18 year-olds: How many are vegetarian and vegan?

A 2014 National Poll by The Vegetarian Resource Group

If you attended grade school or high school in the U.S. in the '50s or '60s, there's a good chance you didn't know any vegetarians, unless you were from a vegetarian-type background, such as Seventh-day Adventist. From The Vegetarian Resource Group's (VRG's) experience of sponsoring a vegetarian essay contest for more than 30 years, it seems that eventually there were a few vegetarians in almost every school, and now more likely there's one or a few in most classes. So how many young vegetarians and vegans are there today?

An April 2014 national online survey conducted by Harris Poll, on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group, asked more than 1,200 U.S. youth ages 8-18:

Which of the following, if any, best describes your eating behavior? (Just select one choice.)

  1. You never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry.
  2. You don't eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at one meal per week.
  3. You don't eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry one full day per week.
  4. You don't eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at many of your meals, but less than half the time.
  5. You don't eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at more than half of your meals, but not all the time.
  6. You never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs.
  7. Not any of the above. No answer.

We are defining vegetarians as never eating meat, fish, seafood, or poultry. Vegans are vegetarians who also don't consume dairy or eggs. In this poll, we did not ask about honey or other animal products, such as leather. Those polls that have people self-define as vegetarian or vegan, don't use the word "never," or just ask the opinions of their readers or website visitors, will likely have different results.

Interestingly, the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in this poll is about the same as in our 2012 telephone poll among adults (Harris 2012). The percentage of youth eating one or more vegetarian meals per week is somewhat lower than adults. When looking at 18-34-year-olds in our adult poll, the number (41%) eating one or more vegetarian meals per week is closer to the overall adult (ages 18-65+) average (43%). We suspect this will hold up once the students in this youth poll reach college age, but we won't know for a few years.

Four percent of U.S. youth ages 8-18 were found to be vegetarian (say they never eat any meat, fish, seafood, or poultry). This number includes vegans. With U.S. youth ages 8-18 numbering about 46 million (United States Census Bureau American Fact Finder), based on this poll, we can estimate there are about 2 million U.S. vegetarians 8-18 years old (4% of 46 million), while about 15 million eat one or more vegetarian meals per week (32% of 46 million). There may be about half a million vegan 8-18-years olds (1% of 46 million).

See the adult Harris poll and more surveys at http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll.

Census information is at http://factfinder2.census.gov.

How often do youth eat vegetarian meals?
8-18-year-olds (current Harris Poll) Adults (2012 Harris Poll)
One meal per week 6% 7%
One day per week 4% 7%
Many of my meals, but less than half the time 8% 15%
More than half of my meals, but not all the time 9% 14%
Always (Vegetarian including vegans) 4% 4%
Always (Vegetarian not including vegans. Never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry.) 3% 3%
Always (Vegans. Never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs.) 1% 1%
Eats vegetarian meals at least once a week. 32% 47%


Percentage of youth that are vegetarian
(Never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry)
4% Total % of vegetarians (including vegans)
3% Vegetarians (excluding vegans)
1% Vegans (Never eat meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs)
4% Male
5% Female
3% Tweens (ages 8-12)
5% Teens (ages 13-18)
4% Grades 3-5
3% Middle School (Grades 6-8)
5% High School (Grades 9-12)
1% Vegan Male
1% Vegan Female


Youth that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week
32% Total
32% Male
32% Female
32% Tweens (ages 8-12)
32% Teens (ages 13-18)
48% Male (ages 8-9)
33% Female (ages 8-9)
28% Male (ages 10-12)
25% Female (ages 10-12)
32% Male (ages 13-15)
34% Female (ages 13-15)
26% Male (ages 16-18)
36% Female (ages 16-18)
32% Grades 3-5
30% Middle School (Grades 6-8)
30% High School (Grades 9-12)

Survey Methodology

This youth survey was conducted online within the United States between April 14-24, 2014 among 1,213 youths ages 8-18 by Harris Poll on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group via its Youth Query omnibus product. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, education, urban/city and region.

The adult survey was conducted by telephone within the United States by Harris Interactive (now doing business as Nielsen Consumer Insights) on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group from March 15 to March 18, 2012, and from March 22 to March 25, 2012, among a nationwide crosssection of 2,030 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race, education, region, number of adults in household, and number of telephone lines were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the U.S. population.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, the words "margin of error" are avoided as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal. Respondents for this youth survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. 8-18-year-old population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the online panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll: On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

Thank you to Charles Stahler and Reed Mangels, RD, PhD, for writing up this information.