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Study: Kids brought up vegetarian twice as likely to be underweight

There was no evidence of an association with being overweight or obesity.

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By Jim Leffman via SWNS

Children brought up as vegetarians are twice as likely to be underweight as youngsters who eat meat, according to a new study.

Canadian researchers found that vegetarian kids have similar growth and nutrition compared to those who eat meat but are far more likely to be underweight.

cute little girl having healthy breakfast at home by herself
Despite the correlation with children being underweight researchers said plant-based diets " appear to be appropriate for most children.”
(Oakland Images/Shutterstock)

The team at St Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health, Toronto, analyzed data from 8,907 children aged six months to eight, between 2008 and 2019.

Lead author and pediatrician Dr. Jonathon Maguire, said: "Over the last 20 years we have seen growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, however we have not seen research into the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets.

"This study demonstrates that Canadian children following vegetarian diets had similar growth and biochemical measures of nutrition compared to children consuming non-vegetarian diets.

"Vegetarian diet was associated with higher odds of underweight weight status, underscoring the need for careful dietary planning for children when considering vegetarian diets.”

Cottage cheese pancakes with fresh berries and strawberry sauce. Healthy and funny breakfast concept for kids. Ripe blueberry, fragrant mint leaves. Gentle blue background, close up
The team analyzed data from 8,907 children aged six months to eight, between 2008 and 2019. (Chatham172/Shutterstock)

The children in the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, were all participants of the TARGet Kids! cohort study.

Researchers found children who had a vegetarian diet had similar mean body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels compared to those who consumed meat.

The findings showed evidence that children with a vegetarian diet had almost two-fold higher odds of being underweight, defined as below the third percentile for BMI.

There was no evidence of an association with being overweight or obesity.

Underweight is an indicator of undernutrition and may 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 eat a vegetarian diet, the researchers recommended growth monitoring, education and guidance to support their growth and nutrition.

Dr. Maguire added: “Plant-based dietary patterns are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and reduced saturated fat.

"However, few studies have evaluated the impact of vegetarian diets on childhood growth and nutritional status.

"Vegetarian diets appear to be appropriate for most children.”

The researchers admitted that vegetarian diets come in many forms and the quality of the individual diet may be quite important to growth and nutritional outcomes.

They said further research is needed to examine the quality of vegetarian diets in childhood, as well as growth and nutrition outcomes among children following a vegan diet, which excludes meat and animal-derived products such as dairy, egg, and honey.

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