Vegetarian children are twice as likely to be underweight as those who eat everything

Vegan food is increasingly being offered and is available to children, especially in school canteens.

Vegan food is increasingly being offered and is available to children, especially in school canteens.

©NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Balanced diet

According to a study by Canadian researchers, vegetarian children are almost twice as likely to be underweight. Is it possible to follow a vegetarian diet without being underweight?

Atlantico: According to a study conducted by Canadian scientists on nearly 9,000 children, vegetarian children are almost twice as likely to become underweight. How to explain it? Are vegetarian children less obese than others?

Beatrice de Reynal:With the growing success of exclusion diets such as vegetarian (consuming only animal products such as milk, eggs, honey) or vegan (no animal products), doctors and scientists are questioning the suitability of these diets for young children, which are traditionally discouraged by general practitioners.

Several studies have attempted to highlight an effect – positive or negative – on weight, growth, biological parameters – associated with these diets. The most recent was conducted with 8,907 children, including 248 vegetarians at the start. The average age at departure was 2.2 years (between 6 months and 5 years!).

Age-related BMI (body mass index, basically the height-to-weight ratio) (zBMI) is measured because children grow rapidly at these ages. Vitamin D status, iron and serum lipids (cholesterol, good and “bad”) were measured.

Children on a vegetarian diet are more likely to be underweight and no association with overweight or obesity has been found.

However, this risk of underweight is low, and the researchers believe that the height difference between vegetarians and others was very small: 0.3 cm on average after 3 years.

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In another cross-sectional study of 2272 children (n = 1090 vegetarians) aged 6 to 17 years, vegetarian boys were on average 1.6 cm taller, and vegetarian girls had a lower BMI than the others! Similarly, a third cross-sectional study of 1,765 children aged 7 to 18 years, Sabate and his team, found that those who ate a vegetarian diet averaged 2.5 cm (boys) and 2.0 cm (girls) taller. Why ? Did these children come from parents of a particular origin? From a particular social background?

A 4th cross-sectional study of 430 children (n = 127 vegetarians) aged 1-3 years did not identify associations between vegetarian diet and weight.

We can conclude that there is no clear difference, which is reassuring for therapists who no longer have this reason to discourage parents from imposing vegetarianism on young children.

Is it possible to follow a vegetarian diet without being underweight? Are there any favorite dishes? For a child, is it dangerous to follow a strictly vegetarian diet? Do meat products contain important nutrients not found in fruits and vegetables?

Now consider the biological parameters: Intake of cow’s milk was associated with an increase in total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol in children on a vegetarian diet. While children with and without a vegetarian diet consuming the recommended 2 cups of cow’s milk a day had comparable serum lipids.

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Since the main source of iron and vitamin D in most children’s diets is meat and cow’s milk, it is assumed that children on a vegetarian diet would have less iron and vitamin D than others. : which is the case, these 2 important nutrients for growth make me retain the opinion of my nutritionist. The vegetarian diet for young children is not suitable unless “growth” dairy products enriched with iron, vitamin D and essential fatty acids are given until at least 3 years of age.

Conclusions: beware of observational studies that may characterize elements of a given group. But this group is not necessarily representative of e.g. age group.

We can also point out that pediatric nutrition tended at the beginning (already distant because it started general nutrition) to be very – too – generous in its recommendations. For example, she advised too high protein levels for babies and infants, then too much iron,… finally, let’s not forget that man remains unique in his ability to adapt: ​​the North Pole, the Equator, the desert, the continental… there are healthy children everywhere.

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