Summary: Children who follow a vegetarian diet have similar growth and nutrition measures to those who eat meat. However, vegetarian children were more likely to be underweight than those who ate meat.
Source: St. Michael’s Hospital
A study of nearly 9,000 children found that those who ate a vegetarian diet had similar growth and nutrition measures to children who ate meat.
The study, published in Pediatrics and led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, also found that children with vegetarian diets had higher risks of being underweight, highlighting the need for special care when planning diets for vegetarian children.
The findings come as the shift to plant-based diets grows in Canada. In 2019, updates to Canada’s Food Guide urged Canadians to prioritize plant-based proteins, such as beans and tofu, over meat.
“Over the past 20 years we have seen an increasing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with greater access to plant-based alternatives, but we have not seen research on the nutritional outcomes of children following a vegetarian diet in Canada,” said Dr. Jonathon Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital at Unity Health Toronto.
“This study demonstrates that Canadian children who follow a vegetarian diet have similar growth and biochemical measures of nutrition as children who follow a non-vegetarian diet. The vegetarian diet was associated with a higher likelihood of being underweight, highlighting the need for careful dietary planning for underweight children when considering a vegetarian diet.
The researchers assessed 8,907 children aged six months to eight years. The children were all participants of the TARGet Kids! cohort study and data was collected between 2008 and 2019. Participants were categorized by vegetarian status – defined as a diet that excludes meat – or by non-vegetarian status.
Researchers found that children who ate a vegetarian diet had similar body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D and cholesterol levels to those who ate meat.
The results showed that children on a vegetarian diet were almost twice as likely to be underweight, which is defined as being below the third percentile for BMI. There was no evidence of an association with overweight or obesity.
Being underweight is an indicator of undernutrition and can be a sign that the quality of the child’s diet is not meeting the child’s nutritional needs to support normal growth. For children who follow a vegetarian diet, the researchers focused on access to healthcare providers who can provide growth monitoring, education, and counseling to support their growth and nutrition.
International guidelines on vegetarian diets in infancy and childhood have different recommendations, and previous studies that have assessed the relationship between vegetarian diets and childhood growth and nutritional status have had different recommendations. conflicting results.
“Plant-based diets are recognized as a healthy way of eating due to increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains and reduced saturated fat; however, few studies have assessed the impact of vegetarian diets on children’s growth and nutritional status.
“Vegetarian diets seem to work for most kids,” said Dr. Maguire, who is also a scientist at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital.
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the quality of the vegetarian diets. The researchers note that vegetarian diets come in many forms, and the quality of the individual diet can be very important to growth and nutritional outcomes.
The authors say more research is needed to examine the quality of vegetarian diets in childhood, as well as growth and nutrition outcomes in children following a vegan diet, which excludes meat and animal products such as as dairy products, eggs and honey.
Funding: The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation and the SickKids Foundation.
About this diet and neurodevelopment research news
Author: Jennifer Strange
Source: St. Michael’s Hospital
Contact: Jennifer Stranges – St. Michael’s Hospital
Picture: Image is in public domain
Original research: The findings will appear in Pediatrics