The number of vegetarians and vegans is increasing. But is a meatless diet safe for young children? What parents need to know.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more and more popular. According to estimates, about ten percent of all Germans now feed themselves. vegetarian and at least one percent of the population vegan, that is, 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 from the German Nutrition Society takes a highly critical view of a vegan diet in young children and considers it inadequate to reliably cover the special nutritional needs in this age group”, says Professor Hans Hauner, Director of the Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine in Munich. In general, however, data on this important question is still scarce.
Meatless diets for children: Canadian study raises questions
According to their own statements, the researchers from Toronto, Canada, wanted to help close the gap. In a large longitudinal cohort study, they compared 8,907 vegetarian, vegan, and conventionally fed boys and girls aged six months to 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 children’s growth, as well as the nutrient content of their blood.
The diet was determined by means of a questionnaire to the parents. According to the study, 248 children celebrated a vegetarian or vegan diet a. These groups did not differ further.
Nutritionists: Vegetarian diets for children “largely safe”
Comparing the data, the researchers found that children who Without meat or vegans, had a similar height, a similar average body mass index (BMI), and similar levels of iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol as children who ate meat.
However, there was an increase in the rate of children on vegetarian or vegan diets. under weight. Diet quality 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 offer any guarantees either. The observation period was too short and information about the nutrition of the children and their parents was “patchy”.
“The results are consistent with previous studies from other countries, which also showed that a balanced and varied vegetarian diet provides children and adults alike with all the necessary nutrients and enables normal child development,” says Peter von Philipsborn, associate researcher at the Chair for Public Health and Health Services Research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of 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, it may be due to 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 groups examined appears in at least one characteristic by chance alone.” The Canadian researchers did not take this into account in their statistical calculations.
In addition, there is another possible source of error in the study: the method of classification of underweight children. Adolescents of European descent were 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 underweight,” says von Philipsborn.
Vegetarian diet probably harmless, vegan not at the moment
The Canadian authors conclude that further studies of even larger cohorts are needed to assess the long-term consequences of a vegetarian or vegan diet in growth and to be able to assess the nutritional status of children more reliably. “Until then, we will have to live with this uncertainty,” agrees Hans Hauner.
while a vegetarian diet with milk intake for young children is probably harmless, a vegan diet in this age group should be considered essential until proven otherwise. “If possible, it shouldn’t be recommended,” Hauner continued.
“We know from other studies that a vegan diet can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, among other things,” says Peter von Philipsborn. Therefore, everyone who follows a vegan diet should take a vitamin B12 supplement.
During the growth phase of childhood and adolescence, the need for many nutrients increases, including those that are increasingly found in animal food idea. From Philipsborn: “The German Nutrition Society therefore does not recommend a vegan diet for children and young people, but also for pregnant and lactating women.”
The child must live vegan: what can parents do?
Parents who, contrary to advice, want to feed their children a vegan diet should always seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist and check the supply of critical nutrients such as B12 vitamin, iron and vitamin D should be checked regularly by a doctor. This is what Peter von Philipsborn, a research associate at the Chair for Public Health and Health Services Research at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, recommends.
Regardless of their diet, all children should also follow childhood habits. checkupsthe so-called clandestine exams.
This article first appeared on abendblatt.de.
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