For climate protection, for the good of the animals or for health reasons: vegetarianism is a problem in many families. It’s not just parents who are concerned about whether a purely vegetarian diet for young children has physical drawbacks. Canadian scientists now report that children who eat a vegetarian diet are more likely to be underweight than their fellow carnivores. They are nearly twice as likely to be underweight, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.
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Vegetarians and carnivores equally healthy
Vegetarians are also slightly smaller on average: For a three-year-old, the size difference is about three millimeters, write the team led by professor of pediatrics Jonathan L. Maguire of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. However, it is unclear how the size difference came about. The children examined do not show any nutrient deficiencies, have a body mass index (BMI) and levels of iron, vitamin D and cholesterol similar to those of meat eaters.
The researchers examined around 9,000 children aged six months to eight years, the data was collected between 2008 and 2019. Parents were asked about the diet of the young participants through a questionnaire: According to this, a total of 248 of the children ate a meatless diet.
The study has weaknesses
Peter von Philipsborn, Research Associate at the Chair for Public Health and Health Services Research at LMU Munich, pointed out weaknesses in the study to the Science Media Center (SMC). Canadian data would show that more vegetarian children are underweight than their meat-eating peers. However, the study never documented a difference between the two groups in terms of average body weight. “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,” says von Philipsborn.
Another source of error: The study used a method for classifying underweight children that was developed for children of European descent, the attention researcher explained. “When this method is applied to children of Asian descent, experts believe it may lead to an overestimation of the prevalence of underweight,” he said. In fact, a third of the vegetarian or vegan children in the study were of Asian descent; however, among conventionally fed children, the proportion was only 20 percent. “This could explain why the proportion of underweight children appears to be higher among vegetarian or vegan children in the current study.”
Diets were not studied.
Maguire’s team also noted that different vegetarian diets had not been studied. Consequently, more work would be needed to assess the long-term consequences of a vegetarian or vegan diet that completely excludes animal products such as milk, eggs, and honey on the nutritional status of children.
Hans Hauner, director of the Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine at the Technical University of Munich, told the SMC: A vegetarian diet with milk intake is probably harmless for young children, but a vegan diet should still be considered essential until proven. otherwise. and should not be recommended if possible.
The German Nutrition Society advocates a vegetarian diet for children and young people as a permanent diet, but not vegan, just like for pregnant and lactating women.