Vegetarian children just as healthy as kids who eat meat, a new study shows
More and more people are opting to reduce – or even completely eliminate – animal products from their diet.
Some are doing it for concerns about what animal agriculture is doing to the planet and our climate. Others because they don't want to contribute to animal cruelty in any form.
And many are opting to reduce meat in order to become – and stay – healthier.
However, over the past few years, as vegetarianism and veganism have been on the rise, many have raised concerns over whether or not a meat-free diet is good for children, who are still growing and developing.
And as it turns out, that answer is yes – in fact, children who don't consume meat are just as healthy and hit every developmental milestone on par with their meat-eating peers.
Similar growth and nutrition levels
According to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, children who eat a vegetarian diet have similar measures of growth and nutrition to children who eat meat. Conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, researchers chose to explore this topic because they found little research has been done in the area, despite the growth in popularity of plant-based diets.
“Over the last 20 years we have seen 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,” Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician, said in a statement.
For the study, the researchers evaluated 8,907 children aged six months to eight years and data was collected over a period of 11 years between 2008 and 2019. Participants were categorized by vegetarian status (defined as a dietary pattern that excludes meat) or non-vegetarian status.
Are vegetarian diets good for children?
What the researchers found, was that children who followed a vegetarian diet had similar mean body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels compared to those who consumed meat.
In fact, the findings also showed evidence that children with a vegetarian diet had higher odds of being underweight, which is defined as below the third percentile for BMI. However, there was no evidence of an association with overweight or obesity—which can come with a host of health problems.
In conclusion, the study showed that a vegetarian diet can be appropriate for children, but the researchers emphasized access to healthcare providers who can provide growth monitoring, education, and guidance to support their growth and nutrition.
“Plant-based dietary patterns are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fibre, whole grains, and reduced saturated fat; however, few studies have evaluated the impact of vegetarian diets on childhood growth and nutritional status,” Dr Maguire, who is also a scientist at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, said. “
Vegetarian diets appear to be appropriate for most children.”