According to a new study, kids who follow a vegetarian diet have a really similar nutrition status and growth process to those who consume meat.
At the same time, however, the research pointed out that they also have increased odds of being underweight.
The study was published on May 2 in the journal Pediatrics and involved nearly 9,000 children and proved that those who consume a no-meat diet are not so different in terms of nutrition from those who do but will need special care when planning their meals to make sure they don’t end up underweight.
The researchers who worked on this study are from St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, Dr. Jonathon Maguire being the lead scientist.
Maguire explained that “Over the last twenty years we have seen growing popularity of plant based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant based alternatives, however we haven’t seen research into the nutritional outcomes of kids following vegetarian diets. This study shows that children following vegetarian diets had similar growth and measures of nutrition compared to those consuming non-vegetarian diets. Vegetarian diets were associated with higher odds of underweight weight status, underscoring a need for dietary planning for kids with underweight when considering vegetarian diets.”
The kids involved in the study were between the ages of 6 months and 8 years, all of them being participants of the TARGet Kids! cohort study between 2008 and 2019.
They were categorized into 2 groups based on their vegetarian and non-vegetarian status.
That being said, the team of scientists discovered that those who followed a vegetarian diet ended up with a similar BMI, iron, vitamin D, cholesterol levels and height as those who did eat meat.
The difference, however, was that vegetarian children had almost twice the risk of being below the third percentile for BMI which means they were more likely to be underweight.
This may be a sign that their diet did not meet their nutritional needs to support their growth properly.
As a result, the research team stressed the importance of access to healthcare providers who can offer them growth monitoring, guidance and any other type of support for their nutrition and growth.
Regardless, Dr. Maguire pointed out that “Plant based dietary patterns are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to an increased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber and reduced saturated fat; however, few studies have evaluated the impact vegetarian diets have on childhood growth and nutritional status. Vegetarian diets seem to be appropriate for most children.”