If you are wondering how your child will behave on a vegetarian diet, a new study offers a few things to consider. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who eat vegetarian food and children who eat meat have similar measurements of growth, height and nutrition. However, vegetarians are more likely to lose weight.
“The last 20 years have seen a growing food environment with increasing popularity of plant-based foods and more access to vegetarian alternatives. However, we have not seen research on the nutritional results of children following a vegetarian diet in Canada, “said Jonathan Maguire, lead author of the study and a pediatrician in St. Petersburg, Michael of Unity Health Toronto, in a press release.
Researchers used data from about 9,000 children aged 6 months to 8 years who were TARGet Kids between 2008 and 2019! Participated in the Study Program, a practice-based research network of primary care and integrated study in Toronto. Details about these children’s diets were provided by the parents, who replied that their children were vegetarians (including vegetarians) or non-vegetarians.
During each health care visit over the years, research assistants 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 minerals when needed. Thus, according to the Mount Sinai Health System, ferritin tests indirectly measure blood iron levels.
At baseline, 248 children (including 25 vegetarians) were vegetarians, and another 338 children became vegetarians shortly after the study. The children were followed for about three years. During this period, there were no significant differences between vegetarian and non-vegetarian children in terms of body mass index, 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 a press release from the study authors, low weight can be a symptom of malnutrition and indicates that the diet is not sufficient to support adequate growth. Specific details about food intake or quality and physical activity were not available to researchers. The data in question may influence participants’ growth and nutrition analysis.
According to the authors, the study, including information on the motivation of vegetarian food such as socio-economic status and long follow-up period, will be useful for understanding the link between development and vegetarianism in children.
The results “emphasize the need for a careful diet plan for underweight children when considering vegetarian foods,” Maguire commented.
“Underweight children, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, are younger and of Asian descent,” said Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutritionists were not involved in the study.
Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor in the pediatrics department at the Stanford School of Medicine, said “ethnicity could certainly have played a role in finding out the weight of those who were not involved in the research.”
Asian children were “probably of East Indian descent because this subgroup of the ‘Asian’ population is much more susceptible to vegetarianism,” Adam said via email. “In India, the growth rate of children is different from that of the United States. It is estimated that the average 5 year old girl in India weighs 17 kg and is about 108 cm tall. In the United States, a girl of the same age and height must weigh 18 kg. “
Regardless, “it’s 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 important thing is to make sure it is well-planned. With the help of a nutritionist, children’s growth can be tracked, as well as their nutritional needs can be ensured that everything is going well.