A study of nearly 9,000 children found those who eat a vegetarian diet had similar measures of growth and nutrition compared to children who eat meat. The study, published in Pediatrics and led by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, also found that children with a vegetarian diet had higher odds of underweight weight status, emphasizing the need for special care when planning the diets of vegetarian kids.
Over the last 20 years, there has been growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, however, there is research studying the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets but not on such diets. Researchers evaluated 8,907 children age six months to eight years. Participants were categorized by vegetarian status-defined as a dietary pattern that excludes meat – or non-vegetarian status. It was 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 having underweight.
Hence, it was concluded that 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. Vegetarian diets appear to be appropriate for most children.