Many people are switching to more plant-heavy or totally plant-based diets. Pediatricians and nutritionists now wonder if there is any truth to the old saw that children reared on vegan diets are not as healthy as their omnivorous peers.
A recent study by the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Poland’s Children’s Memorial Health Institute studied 187 children. It came to some surprising conclusions: kids who grow up vegan may be at risk for nutritional deficiencies, but they are also at least three centimeters shorter.
The study was conducted between 2014 and 2016. Researchers gathered information regarding the children throughout this period, 63 of whom were vegetarian, and 52 were vegan. The data included growth rates, body composition, cardiovascular health, and micronutrient content in the blood.
Something is missing
According to the study, vegan children had much healthier blood cholesterol levels and significantly less body fat. Likewise, they were not deficient in most of the nutrients required by growing bodies. Still, researchers noted that they were also more likely to be deficient in Vitamin B12 and calcium, the latter resulting in a lower bone mineral content.
According to Dr. Malgorzata Desmond, author of the study, vegans who had a higher nutrient intake rate were noted to be on an unprocessed type of diet. This essentially explains their good cardiovascular risk profile and more svelte appearance.
But, unfortunately, the lack of animal protein, calcium, as well as Vitamins D and B12 leads to more brittle bones and much lower serum vitamin concentration in the blood. However, it is too early to say whether going vegan will stunt a child’s growth in the long run.
On the other hand, the study also saw that children who ate meat were deficient in fiber intake and tended to exceed the recommended sugar intake for their age and size.
Does this mean that kids shouldn’t be fed a vegan diet?
While the joint study has noted how a vegan diet may lead to better cardiovascular health in children, other findings are still somewhat ambivalent, particularly those related to bone health and growth.
Nevertheless, study leader Jonathan Well of the Institute of Child Health supports plant-based diets in the context of climate change and animal welfare. He does agree, though, that the public needs to be advised accordingly with regard to proper supplementation in children’s diets to prevent nutritional deficiencies and other health issues.