Vegetarian children are nearly TWICE as likely to be underweight as those who eat meat, study finds


Vegetarian children are almost twice as likely to be underweight as their meat-eating peers, a study finds.

Researchers led by St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, followed 9,000 children — including 250 vegetarians — from about their second to fifth birthday.

Those who adhered to 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 percent more likely to be underweight when their BMI was calculated.

Scientists suggested that this may be because a plant-based diet does not provide enough nutrients for growing children.

But they added that it could also be due to the fact that more Asian children are vegetarian, whose BMI is more likely to be underweight.

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

Vegetarian kids 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 US in modern history, now about 10 percent of people say they eat only plant-based foods — compared to two percent that many decades ago.

Many health experts say it’s perfectly possible to get all the nutrients you need with a “well-planned” vegetarian diet.

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

Healthy eating as a vegetarian

The following is what vegetarians should eat to stay healthy.

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

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables each day, or at least five servings;
  • Meals based on starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread and cereals;
  • Dairy or dairy alternatives such as cheese and yogurt for calcium;
  • Eat beans, legumes, eggs and other protein sources. 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: NHS

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

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

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

This was comparable to the vegetarian group, where 79 percent (192) were also a healthy weight.

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

In comparison, a total of six percent of vegetarians (15) were marked as underweight.

dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at the hospital who led the study, said: ‘Vegetarian diet was associated with a higher risk of being underweight.

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

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

Dr Maguire told: CNN: ‘In India, the growth rates of children differ from the American growth rates.

‘An average five-year-old girl in India is expected to weigh 17 kilograms and is about 108 centimeters tall. In the US, an average five-year-old girl of the same height is expected to weigh 18 kilograms.’

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

The study also found that carnivorous children were more likely to be overweight or obese, in 18 percent of the group (1,522 people), than vegetarian children, at 14 percent (34 people).

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

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

The paper also featured 25 children who were vegan, but this group was too small to measure against the others.