Vegetarian children almost TWICE more likely to be underweight than meat eaters, study finds

According to one study, vegetarian children are almost twice as likely to be underweight than their meat-eating peers.

Researchers led by St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, followed 9,000 children, including 250 vegetarians, between their second and fifth birthdays.

Those who ate a plant-based diet had on average the same height, body mass index (BMI) and nutrition as those who ate meat.

But they were also up to 94% more likely to be underweight when their BMI was calculated.

Scientists have suggested this could be because a plant-based diet does not contain enough nutrients for growing children.

But they added it could also be because more Asian children are vegetarians, which BMI is more likely to show as underweight.

Vegetarian children were nearly half as likely to be underweight than their peers, study finds (file photo)

Being a vegetarian has never been more popular in the United States in modern history, with around 10% of people now saying they only eat plant-based foods, up from 2% decades ago.

Many health experts claim that it is perfectly possible to get all the nutrients you need from a “well-planned” vegetarian diet.

But some European countries have warned against giving young people a vegan diet – which excludes eggs and milk – because of the risk of malnutrition.

How to eat healthy as a vegetarian

Here’s what vegetarians should eat to stay healthy.

Doctors say that contrary to popular belief, most vegetarians get enough protein and calcium in their diets:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables every day, or at least five servings;
  • Starchy carbohydrate meals such as potatoes, breads and cereals;
  • Dairy products or dairy substitutes like cheese and yogurt for calcium;
  • Consume beans, legumes, eggs and other sources of protein. Nuts and seeds can also be a good source;
  • Use unsaturated oils and spreads;
  • Do not regularly eat foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Source: ENM

In the study — published in the journal Pediatrics — scientists used data from the Canadian TARGet kids! study, which followed the children through 2019.

There was an even gender split among the participants, and nearly two-thirds were of European descent.

Of nearly 8,700 young people who ate meat, about 78% (6,600 people) were of a healthy weight.

This was similar to the vegetarian group, where 79% (192) were also at a healthy weight.

But in the underweight category, only about three percent of meat eaters (274) were included.

For comparison, a total of six percent of vegetarians (15) were flagged as underweight.

Dr Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at the hospital who led the study, said: ‘The vegetarian diet was associated with a higher likelihood of being underweight.

“This underscores the need for careful dietary planning for underweight children when considering vegetarian diets.”

He also suggested that the findings could be due to more Asian children being in the vegetarian group.

Dr Maguire told CNN: “In India, growth charts for children differ from American growth charts.

“An average five-year-old girl in India should weigh 17 kilograms and be around 108 centimeters tall. In the United States, an average five-year-old girl of the same height should weigh 18 kilograms.

BMI is calculated by dividing weight by height, but experts warn it’s an imperfect measure because it can’t take into account age, gender and ethnicity, among other factors.

The study also found that meat-eating children were more likely to be overweight or obese, at 18% of the group (1,522 people), than vegetarians, at 14% (34 people).

Both groups had similar levels of cholesterol, triglycerides – a type of fat – and serum ferritin – a measure of iron content.

Scientists had suggested at the start of the study that vegetarians might have less iron because they don’t eat meat.

The document also included 25 vegan children, but this group was too small to measure up to the others.

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