Vegetarianism has enjoyed great success around the world in recent decades. Whether for religious, environmental, or health reasons, the meatless diet has won adherents of all ages. In this context, many children respect the vegetarian diet, which has raised concerns among health authorities. But how does this diet ultimately affect the well-being of children? Previous studies have evaluated the relationship between the vegetarian program and children’s growth and nutritional status, but the results have been conflicting. Now, thanks to recent research, more is known on the subject. We tell you everything!
Does the vegetarian diet stunt the growth of young children?
Regardless of why someone decided to become a vegetarian, everyone knows that this type of diet can lead to multiple deficiencies and therefore better monitoring is needed. A balanced diet is also a very important point of this diet. But what about a vegetarian child? Can a meatless diet in young children negatively affect their growth? Are there other dangers? A new study published in the journal May 2, 2022 paediatrics finally gives more clarity on this contradictory topic.
Led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the Canadian study found that children who eat vegetarian diets don’t slow down their growth but put them at higher risk of being underweight. These results underscore the need for more careful meal planning for vegetarian children.
A comparison with non-vegetarian children
Vegetarian and vegan (plant-based) diets have gained popularity over the past 20 years, increasing access to alternatives to meat and other animal products. Still, there is a lack of information about the nutritional effects of vegetarianism on children, particularly on their growth, says the study’s lead author, Dr. Jonathan Maguire.
“This study shows that Canadian children who ate a vegetarian diet had similar biochemical growth and nutritional indications to children who ate meat. », Dr. Maguire gone. However, he adds that a vegetarian diet is associated with a higher risk of being underweight. If your child is underweight, it is important to first consider the importance of more careful diet planning before considering such a diet. Also, it is best to consult a nutritionist.
Almost 9,000 children took part in the study
A total of 8,907 children aged 6 months to 8 years took part in the study, whose data were collected between 2008 and 2019. They were defined as children who did not eat meat and those who did. In other words, vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
The results of the analyzes showed that the vegetarian children had a similar body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D and cholesterol levels as the children who ate meat. At the risk of repeating ourselves, a higher likelihood of being underweight was found. No evidence of an association with overweight or obesity was found.
Underweight as an indicator of malnutrition
The researchers also note that being underweight indicates malnutrition and could mean that the quality of the child’s diet is not meeting their nutritional needs to support normal growth. For children who follow a vegetarian diet, scientists insist on access to healthcare professionals who can monitor the child’s growth and provide nutritional advice.
According to the study authors, plant-based diets are considered a healthy diet with a view to high consumption of fruit, vegetables, fiber and whole grains. There is also a reduction in saturated fats. Finally, claims Dr. Maguire this “Vegetarian diet seems to be suitable for most children”.
However, the study has a limitation and that is the lack of an assessment of the quality of the vegetarian diet. The researchers suggest that these come in many forms and that the quality of an individual’s diet may be of great importance to growth and nutritional outcomes. That means more research is needed.