Nutr Health. 1998 ; 12(3): 189-95.
Is a vegetarian diet adequate for children.
Centre for Consumer Education and Research, Liverpool John Moores University.
The number of people who avoid eating meat is growing, especially among young people. Benefits to health from a vegetarian diet have been reported in adults but it is not clear to what extent these benefits are due to diet or to other aspects of lifestyles. In children concern has been expressed concerning the adequacy of vegetarian diets especially with regard to growth. The risks/benefits seem to be related to the degree of restriction of he diet; anaemia is probably both the main and the most serious risk but this also applies to omnivores. Vegan diets are more likely to be associated with malnutrition, especially if the diets are the result of authoritarian dogma. Overall, lacto-ovo-vegetarian children consume diets closer to recommendations than omnivores and their pre-pubertal growth is at least as good. The simplest strategy when becoming vegetarian may involve reliance on vegetarian convenience foods which are not necessarily superior in nutritional composition. The vegetarian sector of the food industry could do more to produce foods closer to recommendations. Vegetarian diets can be, but are not necessarily, adequate for children, providing vigilance is maintained, particularly to ensure variety. Identical comments apply to omnivorous diets. Three threats to the diet of children are too much reliance on convenience foods, lack of variety and lack of exercise.