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Scientists Find Out How Trendy Vegan Diets Affect Children’s Growth and Bones

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Parents should be aware of the risks associated with a vegan diet. One study showed that putting children on a trendy vegan diet will make them grow up to be shorter and with weaker bones. The researchers found that children aged five to ten years old on a plant-based diet were on average three centimeters shorter than those who ate meat.

Their bones were also smaller and less strong, putting the children at risk for fractures or osteoporosis later in life. The study, conducted by the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health at University College London, says parents should be aware of the risks associated with a vegan diet.

The authors believe that vegan children should be given vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements to reduce the potential long-term health effects of growing up on plants alone. Vegans exclude all animal products, including dairy, eggs, and even honey. But there is little evidence that this can harm children’s health.

Lead author Professor Jonathan Wells of the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “We know that people are increasingly embracing plant-based diets for several reasons, including helping to protect animals and reducing our impact on the climate.

“Indeed, a global shift to a plant-based diet is now recognized as crucial to preventing climate disruption, and we strongly support these efforts. We also know that until now, research on the health effects of these diets on children has been largely limited to assessments of height and weight and has been conducted only among vegetarian children.

“Our study provides significant insight into the health consequences of children following vegetarian and vegan diets.”

The new study involved 187 healthy children aged five to ten years in Poland. Of these, 63 were vegetarians, 52 were vegans and 72 were omnivores. The children on the vegan diet were on average three centimeters shorter. They also had 4-6% fewer bone minerals and were more than three times more likely to have vitamin B-12 deficiency than omnivores.

Co-author Professor Mary Futrell added: “Maximizing bone health in children is recommended to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in the future. We found that the vegan children had lower bone mass even when taking into account their smaller bodies and bone size. This means that they may be entering adolescence, a phase when bone nutrient requirements are higher and bone deficiencies are already established.

“If this deficit is caused by a diet that persists through adolescence, it may increase the risk of adverse bone outcomes later in life,” she says. However, on the other hand, vegan children have 25 percent lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower levels of body fat.

Co-author Dr. Malgorzata Desmond said: “We found that vegans consumed more nutrients, indicative of an ‘unprocessed’ type of plant-based diet, which in turn is associated with lower body fat and an improved cardiovascular risk profile.

On the other hand, lower intakes of protein, calcium, and vitamins B12 and D may explain their less favorable bone mineral and serum vitamin concentrations.

“At first we were surprised by the poor cardiovascular health profile of the vegetarian children, but their dietary data showed that they ate a relatively processed type of plant-based diet with less healthy levels of fiber and sugar compared to vegans.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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