- A leading US nutritionist today claimed that vegetarian
and vegan parents are damaging their children's health by denying them
- UK experts immediately contested the findings of Professor
Lindsay Allen, of the University of California at Davis, and Sir Paul McCartney
told the BBC that the claims were "rubbish".
- Prof Allen conducted a study of impoverished children
in Kenya, and found that adding as little as two spoonfuls of meat a day
to their starch-based diets dramatically improved muscle development and
- Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science, in Washington DC, she said: "Animal
source foods have some nutrients which are not found anywhere else.
- "If you're talking about feeding young children
and pregnant women and lactating women, I would go as far as to say it
is unethical to withhold these foods during that period of life. There's
a lot of empirical research that will show the very adverse effects on
child development of doing that."
- Prof Allen was especially critical of parents who imposed
a vegan lifestyle on their children, denying them milk, cheese, eggs and
butter, as well as meat. "There's absolutely no question that it's
unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans,"
- Sir Paul, a vegetarian for 20 years, telephoned the BBC
to dismiss the claims as "rubbish", telling the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy
Vine show: "I really do think this is rubbish. I think the medical
profession itself, apart from this one person, come to the conclusion that
a veggie diet is good for you and can help with colon cancer and stuff,
so I suspect these things are engineered by livestock people who have seen
sales fall off.
- "From my own point of view, it has been a good thing
for me and my children, who are no shorter than other children."
- However, the British Dietetic Association said the study
looked at impoverished, rural children with a poor background diet low
in essential nutrients such as zinc, B12 and iron, and its findings were
not applicable to vegan children in the developed world.
- "There is no evidence that our vegan and vegetarian
children in this country suffer impaired development," a spokeswoman
for the association said.
- She said Prof Allen's assertion that some nutrients could
only be obtained from animal sources was incorrect. Even vitamin B12, which
is only found in animal products, was used to fortify vegan alternatives
such as Marmite.
- Vegetarians could obtain sufficient calcium from sesame
seeds, nuts and fortified soya milk, and iron from dried fruit and fortified
breakfast cereals, the spokeswoman added.
- The African study involved 544 children in Kenya, typically
aged around seven, whose diet mainly consisted of starchy, low-nutrition
corn and bean staples lacking these micronutrients. Over a period of two
years, one group of the children was given a daily supplement of two ounces
of meat - equivalent to roughly two spoonfuls of mince.
- Two other groups received either a cup of milk a day
or an oil supplement containing the same amount of energy. The diet of
a fourth group was left unaltered.
- The changes seen in the children given the meat, and
to a lesser extent the milk or oil, were dramatic.
- Prof Allen, the director of the US Agricultural Research
Service's Western Human Nutrition Research Centre at Davis, said: "It
was found that, compared with controls that had no intervention, the meat
group had 80% more increase in muscle mass over the two years of the study,
and the milk and energy group had 40% more increase in muscle mass.
- "In terms of cognitive function, the group that
received the meat supplement showed the biggest improvement in fluid intelligence
over the two years, and those who had either milk or energy supplements
were better than the controls. The group that received the meat supplements
were more active in the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed
more leadership skills," she said.
- Test scores for mental skills improved by 35 points for
the meat group and 14 for the milk, while remaining unchanged for the children
who received no supplements, she said. Adding either meat or milk to the
diets also almost completely eliminated the very high rates of vitamin
B12 deficiency previously seen in the children.
- "It's important to know that these important benefits
to human function and human capital were seen in just two years,"
Prof Allen added. "Had these children received these foods earlier
in life, or their mothers received them when they had been pregnant, or
people could receive them throughout their lives, we think that the improvements
in human capital development would be even more dramatic."
- She said that, although the study had been conducted
in a poor African community, its message was highly relevant to people
in developed countries. Studies of vegetarians in both the US and Europe
had shown that missing out on meat and dairy products could permanently
impair a child's development.
- Liz O'Neill, the head of communications at the Vegetarian
Society, is seven months pregnant with her first child, and said nothing
in Prof Allen's research had dissuaded her from the intention of raising
her baby as a vegetarian.
- "This study should not scare any parents in this
country. It's just not relevant," Ms O'Neill said. "Certainly
a balanced vegetarian diet will be much healthier than the average meat-eater's
diet. As soon as you take something out of your diet, it makes you stop
and think about how to replace what is missing."
- However, Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, a senior lecturer in
paediatrics at University College London, said human ancestry showed that
natural diet includes meat and that a diet inclusive of meat was likely
to produce a taller, stronger child.
- "Whilst I respect a person's ethical decision to
eat a vegan diet as an adult, it should be very carefully considered if
that is the right decision for a child," Dr Sutcliffe said. He said
he believed a vegetarian diet including dairy products would probably be
fine for children.
- The British Dietetic Association spokeswoman said the
study raised the important point that pregnant and breastfeeding women
and young children were vulnerable as vegans, and that parents should carefully
review their children's diet to ensure they were eating a well-balanced
- However, she dismissed as "extreme" Prof Allen's
assertion that feeding children a vegan diet was unethical, and recommended
parents read the nutrition guides available from the Vegetarian Society
to help them plan a balanced diet.
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited
- Pam Rotella
- I was somewhat surprised that this article emphasized
fortification and uncommon food items for sources of calcium and iron among
vegetarians, when these and other nutrients are commonly found in a variety
of common foods including leafy greens. Cows certainly don't get their
calcium from fortified soy milk or sesame seeds! B12 is manufactured by
bacteria, assumed to be provided by resident bacteria in humans' intestines
and mouths; our bodies are built to recycle it and require very little
new B12 on a daily basis. No animals produce it on their own, and B12
deficiencies are most commonly caused by parasites.
- Also, this study assumes that these particular African
diets can be accepted as "normal," despite admitting that they
consisted of starchy, low-nutrition foods. Of course meat would make a
difference in diets devoid of other nutrients. I've noticed that they
didn't bother adding a study group supplemented with carrots, greens, lentils,
or eggplant instead of meat.
- Why wasn't the meat group tested against a vegetable
group? Was this to rig the study, in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion?
I'd like to see what kind of funding this Professor and his employer,
UC-Davis, receive from meat, dairy, and egg marketing organizations.
- It should be noted that California is the leading dairy
producer in the nation, overtaking Wisconsin several years ago. The state
at large has an interest in promoting dairy products.