Vegetarian and carnivorous children grow similarly

Children who ate vegetarian food and children who ate meat were similar in terms of growth, height and nutritional measurements (Credit: Breeding / Pixab)

If you are wondering how your child can rent a vegetarian diet, a new study suggests a few reasons to consider. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, vegetarian infants and meat-eating infants had similar growth, height, and nutritional measurements, but vegetarian infants were more likely to lose weight.

“The last 20 years have seen a changing food environment with the growing popularity of plant-based foods and more access to plant-based alternatives, but we have not seen research on the nutritional results of children following a vegetarian diet in Canada.” Dr. Jonathan Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician in St. Petersburg. Michael Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, in a press release.

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The authors used data from about 9,000 children aged 6 months to 8 years who participated in TARGet Kids! Teams between 2008 and 2019. Notice the kids! A primary care practice-based research network and integrated research in Toronto. Details about these children’s diets were provided by their parents, who responded to whether their children were vegetarians (including vegetarians) or non-vegetarians.

During each health care over the years, notice the kids! Measured participants’ body mass index, weight, height, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, vitamin D levels and serum ferritin levels. Ferritin is a cellular protein that stores iron and allows the body to use iron when needed, so ferritin tests indirectly measure blood iron levels according to the Mount Sinai Health System.

At baseline, 248 children (including 25 vegetarians) were vegetarians and another 338 children became vegetarians some time later during the study. The children were followed for an average of about three years. There was no significant difference between vegetarian and non-vegetarian children in terms of BMI pattern, height, serum ferritin levels, and vitamin D levels.

However, vegetarian children were about twice as likely to be underweight as non-vegetarian children.

According to the study’s press release, being underweight can be a sign of malnutrition and may indicate that food is not enough to support proper growth. The authors did not have specific details about diet or quality and physical activity – which could affect growth and nutrition.

Studies with long follow-up periods and information on vegetarian motivation – such as socio-economic status – will also be helpful in understanding the relationship between children’s development and vegetarianism, the authors say.

“The need for careful meal planning for underweight children when considering vegetarian food highlights these results,” said Maguire.

“Underweight children in both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian groups were similar in age and of Asian descent, and younger,” said Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Kimberlyn was not involved in the study.

Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor in the pediatrics department at the Stanford School of Medicine, said “ethnicity may have played a role in the discovery of weight,” who was not involved in the study.

Asian children were “probably of East Indian descent because this subset of the ‘Asian’ population (which I have chosen as a person of Indian tradition) is much more likely to be vegetarian,” Adam said in an email. “In India, the child growth chart is different from the US growth chart. In India, an average 5-year-old girl is expected to weigh 17 kilograms and stand about 108 centimeters tall. In the United States, the average weight of a 5-year-old girl of the same height should be 18 kg.

Regardless, “it is important that children are monitored for their growth, regardless of their diet,” Kimberlyn said. “A vegetarian diet can be a healthy choice for all children. The key is to make sure it is well-planned. A registered dietitian can monitor children’s growth as well as their nutritional needs so that they are eating properly.”

If you and your kids are experimenting with vegetarian or vegetarian eating, it’s important to have alternatives “if one day they like something and the next day they don’t,” Kimberlyn said.


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