What is making flexitarians in the US and UK shift towards a meatless diet?

Aishwarya Dabhade
May 31, 2021, 9:45 AM UTC

Data from YouGov Profiles examines whether it’s ethics or health-related reasons that are driving more ‘flexitarians’ towards a meatless diet.  

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the world’s total meat production in 2020 was more or less the same as it was the previous year. The same report also says that the annual average indices of all meat products that constitute the index fell in 2020. So, with consumption of meat remaining static (or even shrinking) globally – and confounding many expectations - we thought we’d look into eating habits in the UK and the US. 

According to data collected by YouGov Profiles, which studies consumer behaviour, opinions and habits across 17 markets, most of the total adult population in the US (59%) and in the UK (72%) are meat-eaters. Vegetarianism is practised by only 3% of adults in the US and 5% in Great Britain.

Flexitarians, who follow vegetarianism with the occasional inclusion of meat, form 13% of the UK’s population and 12% in the US. A recent survey by YouGov helps us understand what makes flexitarians decide their food habits - is it ethics or a quest for better health?  

More than half (58%) of the American adults who identify themselves as flexitarians believe that a meatless diet is a healthier option, albeit that a quarter (25%) of them disagree. Compared to the general population, half of Americans (50%) agree that going meat-free is better for you, while 32% disagree.  

Flexitarians in Great Britain are less likely to agree to the same statement (44%) while 35% disagree with it altogether. 

Though compared to the American flexitarian population, fewer Brits believe that a meatless diet is healthier, many of them (68%) are actively trying to reduce meat consumption - and it’s the same story in the US too (also 68%).  

Yet when asked if being a vegan is more ethical, flexitarians in Britain were on the fence - 40% agreed while 38% disagreed.  In the US, there is more of a difference - 42% of flexitarians agreed with the notion, compared to 37% who disagreed but it’s still much less than the proportion of the same group who tell us that they are trying to eat less meat. 

Interestingly, flexitarians both in the UK and the US are more likely to say that vegetarianism is ethical than they are to say the same about veganism – and the same is true of the general population in both countries too.  

Methodology: YouGov Profiles is based on continuously collected data and rolling surveys, rather than from a single limited questionnaire. Profiles data referenced is based on a sample size of 830-4,157 adults from the US and UK. Online interviews were conducted between May 2020 – May 2021. Profiles data is nationally representative and weighted by age, gender, education, region, and race. Learn more about Profiles