A team of researchers from Canada reports that children who follow a vegetarian diet are more likely to be underweight, but important factors have not been considered. A German researcher is now explaining the connection between low weight and a vegetarian diet in children.
Children who eat a vegetarian diet are more likely to be underweight than their fellow meat eaters. However, they grow as fast as these and do not suffer from a lack of nutrients. This is reported by the team led by Jonathon Maguire of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, in the specialized journal “Pediatrics”.
New research in Canada
The researchers studied nearly 9,000 children between the ages of six months and eight years, 250 of whom did not eat meat. They made no further distinction as to whether the children were vegetarian or vegan.
Over a period of nearly three years, the scientists recorded the children’s height and weight, as well as the levels of iron, cholesterol and vitamin D in their blood.
Analysis of the data showed that the vegetarian children were about the same height and weight as the meat-eating children. Maguire’s team was also unable to identify any nutrient deficiencies.
However, the research showed that vegetarians were twice as likely to be underweight. Therefore, scientists recommend paying special attention to a balanced diet for minor vegetarians.
Criticism of the Canada study
However, the study has some weaknesses, explains Peter von Philipsborn of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in a press consultation of the Science Media Center.
Although the data showed that more vegetarian children were underweight than meat-eating children, the average body weight of the groups remained similar.
“Since the number of underweight children in the study was very low overall, the apparent difference between the two groups may be due to a random effect.” The researchers did not take into account the possible random effect in their calculations, says von Philipsborn.
Incorrect underweight classification
In addition, Maguire’s team evaluated their data based on an underweight classification intended for children of European descent. “If this method is applied to children of Asian descent, experts believe this may lead to an overestimation of the frequency of underweight,” says von Philipsborn.
“This may explain why the proportion of underweight children appears to be higher among vegetarian or vegan children in the current study.” boys only about a fifth.
Nutrient deficiencies cannot be attributed solely to vegetarianism
Von Philipsborn concludes that the study results are consistent with previous work “which also showed that a balanced and varied vegetarian diet provides children and adults alike with all the necessary nutrients and allows for normal child development.”
Parents who feed their children vegetarian, therefore, need not fear any consequences for their children’s health, provided that the diet is balanced. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) shares this opinion: It recommends a vegetarian diet for children and young people, but so far not a vegan diet.