It has long been thought that vegetarianism in children can hurt their growth and nutrition as they are missing out on key nutrients that only meat can offer, such as protein and iron.
A new St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto and TARGet Kids! study has disproven this assumption, concluding that children who eat a vegetarian diet had similar levels of growth and nutrition to their meat-eating counterparts. The group collected data over a nine-year period, which included information from 8,907 children ranging from six months to eight years old.
Why is vegetarianism in children on the rise?
Because of growing awareness of the environmental impact of meat, more parents across the world are opting for their children’s diets to be more vegetable-based. An influencing factor in Canada also may have been the updated guidelines to Canada’s Food Guide in 2019, which urged Canadians to embrace plant-based proteins such as beans and tofu.
“Over the last 20 years we have seen the growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, however we have not seen research into the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets in Canada,” said Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the study.
How does a vegetarian diet impact children?
Children who ate a vegetarian diet had a similar body mass index (BMI), vitamin D, height, iron, and cholesterol levels compared to children who ate a meat-based diet. This shows that vegetarian diets seem to be appropriate for most children and supply them with the key nutrients they require.
However, it also found that veggie children had almost two times higher odds of being underweight. This emphasizes the need for nutritional planning in vegetarian children’s diets and for healthcare providers to provide national growth monitoring, education, and guidance for parents who are supplying this diet.
Further research needs to be conducted to examine the quality of vegetarian diets of children, plus, look further into nutrition and growth of children following a vegan diet.
Source study: Pediatrics – Vegetarian Diet, Growth, and Nutrition in Early Childhood: A Longitudinal Cohort Study