For their study, the St. Michael’s team evaluated 8,907 children who were part of the TARGet Kids! cohort study. Data was collected on the children — ages 6 months to 8 years — from 2008 to 2019.
For the most part, the vegetarians and the meat-eaters showed little difference in health and nutrition, with “similar mean body mass index (BMI), height, iron, vitamin D, and cholesterol levels,” they wrote.
They found one key difference between the groups, however. The children who followed a vegetarian diet “had almost two-fold higher odds of having underweight, which is defined as below the third percentile for BMI,” the scientists found.
Being that underweight could be a sign of undernutrition and that those children aren’t getting the proper nutrition for normal growth. The scientists encourage parents and doctors to more closely monitor vegetarian kids to ensure their nutritional needs are being met.
“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; however, few studies have evaluated the impact of vegetarian diets on childhood growth and nutritional status. Vegetarian diets appear to be appropriate for most children,” said Maguire, who is also a scientist at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital.
The researchers acknowledge more testing is needed to determine the quality of vegetarian diets, considering there is a variety of them out there. The study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
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