Vegetarian children are more likely to be underweight, the study suggests

  • According to a new study, vegetarian children do not appear to have growth or nutrient deficiencies compared to their peers.
  • The researchers found that children on a vegetarian diet had similar levels of nutrients such as iron and vitamin D.
  • However, vegetarians were more likely to be underweight and dietary quality may be an important factor.

Vegetarian children have similar levels of nutrition and growth to those of their meat-eating peers, but may be nearly twice as likely to be underweight, a study published in the May 2 issue of the journal Pediatrics suggests.

Researchers led by a team from St. John’s Hospital Michael’s Unity Health Toronto analyzed data from nearly 9,000 Canadian children between the ages of six months and eight, comparing their diets to their height, weight and nutrition.

They found that the 338 children who had followed vegetarian or vegan diets had similar heights, growth markers, than children who ate meat. Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, vegetarians also had comparable levels of nutrients such as iron and

vitamin D

as carnivores did, suggesting that vegetarian children could get enough in their diet without eating meat.

However, vegetarian children were almost twice as likely as those who ate meat to be underweight, depending on their body mass index or weight-to-height ratio.

Being underweight may indicate an increased risk of malnutrition or a lack of enough calories and nutrients needed for proper growth, according to the authors. However, more research is needed so that other lifestyle variables, including physical activity and diet-specific foods, could play a role in the findings.

The results show that careful planning is important when considering how to meet the nutritional needs of children on a vegetarian diet, according to Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at St. John’s Hospital. Michael’s from Unity Health Toronto.

“Plant-based dietary patterns are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and reduced saturated fats,” Maguire said in a press release. “Vegetarian diets seem to be suitable for most children.”

Plant-based diets can vary widely, so quality is important for health outcomes

An important limitation of the study is that it did not assess the quality of vegetarian diets, or specific foods, beyond the exclusion of meat.

Evidence suggests that the health of a vegetarian diet may vary depending on which foods are included. Plant-based diets rich in vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits are all linked to better health outcomes. But many highly processed foods are also vegetarian, may be high in sugar, salt, and preservatives, and may be related to health issues.

A small study from 2021 found that vegetarian children who ate more processed plant-based foods had high levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. They also tended to eat fewer foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains, losing important vitamins and nutrients such as fiber, according to the researchers.

“We are learning that just eating plant-based diets is not a guarantee of health, we still have to choose healthy foods,” Dr. Małgorzata Desmond, lead author of the study and researcher at The Children’s Memorial Health, said in a press release. Institute. .

More research is also needed on vegan diets, which eliminate meat and other animal products such as dairy, eggs and honey.

The same 2021 study suggested that vegan children may be at higher risk for mineral and vitamin deficiencies, such as calcium and B vitamins, which can lead to lower bone mass and density. However, the data suggest that vegan children are more likely to have healthy cholesterol levels and other markers of good heart health.

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