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Growth and Vegetarian Diets: A Study That Gets to the Root of the Matter

May 13, 2022

Have parents who are vegetarian asked you if a vegetarian diet is appropriate for their infants or young children? How strong is the evidence of the benefits and potential harms? Elliott et al (10.1542/peds.2021-052598) share with us the results of a longitudinal cohort study involving 8,907 children ages 6 months to 8 years who were part of a primary care practice-based network in Toronto, Canada. Among these children there were 248, who were vegetarian at baseline entry into this study, and then followed for an average of almost 3 years.

The authors evaluated if vegetarian diets were associated with problems with growth in weight and height and reduced iron and vitamin D stores. The authors also investigated whether less intake of saturated fats found more commonly in animal foods produced a better serum lipid profile.

The authors found no significant differences in growth between children on vegetarian compared to non-vegetarian diets, although the odds of children being underweight, when weight categories were stratified, was significantly higher in children on vegetarian diets. There was no increased or decreased association between being on a vegetarian diet and being overweight or obese. No differences in serum ferritin, 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels, or serum lipids were found either.

This is a study that should reassure you and the families you care for that a vegetarian diet that has been carefully planned out to incorporate key food groups is one that is worth supporting—just as long as you and the family recognize the need to reassess what’s in the diet and to monitor growth at well-child visits.  There is a lot of food for thought in this study to digest so link to it and learn more.

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