Vegan & vegetarian for children: Healthy nutrition – what parents should know


Vegetarian for children: a meatless diet is so healthy

24.05.2022, 06:32

| Reading time: 6 minutes

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The number of vegetarians and vegans is increasing. But is a meatless diet safe for young children? What Parents Should Know.

Berlin. Vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular. According to estimates, around ten percent of all Germans now feed themselves vegetarian and at least one percent of the population vegan, i.e. purely plant-based. These are mainly young people, often families with small children. This raises the question of the extent to which a vegetarian or vegan diet is safe for children.

“Opinions differ widely. While North American professional societies have few concerns, a position paper by the German Society for Nutrition takes a very critical view of a vegan diet in young children and considers it unsuitable for reliably covering the special nutritional needs in this age group,” says Professor Hans Hauner, Director of the Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine in München. Overall, however, the data on this important question is still sparse.

Meatless diets for children: Canadian study raises questions

According to their own statements, researchers from Toronto, Canada, wanted to help close the gap. In a large longitudinal cohort study, they therefore compared 8907 vegetarian, vegan and conventionally fed boys and girls aged between six months and eight years. On average, the children were 2.2 years old.

Over a period of 2.8 years, the scientists analyzed the connections between a vegetarian or vegan diet and the growth of the children as well as the nutrient content of their blood.

The diet was determined by means of a questionnaire about the parents. According to the study, 248 children held one vegetarian or vegan diet a. These groups were not further differentiated.

Nutritionists: Vegetarian diets for children “largely safe”

When comparing the data, the researchers found that children who meatless or vegan diets, had a similar height, a similar average body mass index (BMI), and similar iron, vitamin D and cholesterol levels as children who ate meat.

Nevertheless, there was an increased rate of children with vegetarian or vegan diets underweight. The quality of the diet was not examined in the study.

“The study shows that a vegetarian diet for children is largely safe,” says Hans Hauner. However, this study from Canada cannot provide any guarantees either. The observation period was too short and the information about the nutrition of the children and their parents was “patchy”.

“The results are consistent with earlier studies from other countries, which also showed that a balanced, varied vegetarian diet provides children and adults alike with all the necessary nutrients and enables normal child development,” says Peter von Philipsborn, research associate at the chair for Public Health and Health Services Research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

Increased rate of underweight – just a random effect?

That there is a statistical abnormality for being underweight children on a meatless diet According to von Philipsborn, there can be two reasons: “Since the number of underweight children in the study was very low overall, the difference between the two groups may be due to a random effect,” says the scientist.

This is particularly possible because a large number of characteristics were examined in the study. “And the more characteristics that are examined, the greater the probability that a supposed difference between the examined groups will appear for at least one characteristic purely by chance.” The researchers from Canada did not take this into account in their statistical calculations.

In addition, there is another possible source of error in the study: the method for classifying underweight children. The one for adolescents of European descent was used, but a third of the vegetarian or vegan children in the study were of Asian descent. “According to experts, this can lead to an overestimation of the frequency of being underweight,” says von Philipsborn.

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Vegetarian diet probably harmless, vegan not for the time being

The authors from Canada conclude that further, even larger cohort studies are needed to assess the long-term consequences of a vegetarian or vegan diet on growth and to be able to assess the nutritional status of the children more reliably. “Until then, we’ll have to live with this uncertainty,” agrees Hans Hauner.

while a vegetarian diet with milk intake for small children is probably harmless, a vegan diet in this age group should be viewed as critical until proven otherwise. “If possible, it should not be recommended,” Hauner continued.

“We know from other studies that a vegan diet can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, among other things,” says Peter von Philipsborn. Therefore, all people who follow a vegan diet should take a vitamin B12 supplement.

During the growth phase in childhood and adolescence, the need for many nutrients is increased, including those that are increasingly found in animal foods occurrence. From Philipsborn: “The German Society for Nutrition therefore does not recommend a vegan diet for children and young people, but also for pregnant and breastfeeding women.”

Child should live vegan – what can parents do?

Parents who, contrary to the recommendation, want to feed their children a vegan diet should always seek advice from a qualified nutritionist and check the supply of critical nutrients such as Vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D should be checked regularly by a doctor. This is recommended by Peter von Philipsborn, research associate at the Chair of Public Health and Health Services Research at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

Regardless of their diet, all children should also follow the childlike check-upsthe so-called underground examinations.

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Tue, 05/24/2022, 06:32 a.m

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