Vegetarian diet 'harms children's growth'

A row erupted yesterday after an expert said youngsters brought up as strict vegetarians suffered mental and physical problems that could affect them for the rest of their lives.

Nutritionists in Britain dismissed the findings of the US study as " rubbish", and the report prompted Sir Paul McCartney, whose first wife, Linda, put her name to a range of meat-free food, to telephone the BBC to dismiss the claim.

Lindsay Allen, from the University of California at Davis, found just two spoonfuls of meat a day given to children on a vegetarian diet could produce a dramatic and permanent improvement in their physical and mental development. The study took place in Kenya, where children are fed almost exclusively on staple crops. Their diet lacked many of the micro-nutrients essential for the growth of brain and muscle tissue, Professor Allen said. "It's applicable to the West as well. There have been studies on vegetarian women [in Europe and the US] and their children are very developmentally delayed," she added.

Although some vegetarian parents gave their children food supplements, many vegans, who ate no animal products, reared their children on the same food they ate themselves, she said. She told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington: "There is absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans. Even when they were adolescents these children who were fed as vegans when they were young still had delayed development or permanently impaired development,"

Professor Tom Sanders, research director of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London, criticised her for extrapolating from a group in a developing country that had a relatively deprived diet. "Taking people who have limited food choices and adding animal products will provide elements missing from their restricted diets. But where you have a good choice in developed countries, you can select a balanced vegan diet even for children," he said.

Professor Sanders made a study of vegan nutrition which followed children from conception to the age of 26, to show that the development of vegans was normal. "Their diet in developed countries contains plenty of wheat, soy, pulse and salads, and provided they avoid Vitamin B12 deficiency by eating fortified foods or supplements, they are not at any disadvantage," he said. He admitted that a vegan diet for children under the age of five might pose a risk of malnutrition if there was too much reliance on vegetables.

Sir Paul, a strict vegetarian for 20 years, said he had raised his children as non-meat eaters with no ill-effects.

"It has been a good thing for me and my children, who are no shorter than other children," he said. Britain's 500,000 vegans and vegetarians had half the mortality rate of the general population, he added.

Stephen Walsh, of the International Vegetarian Union, said that "to conclude from this particular plant diet that all plant diets are poor, and that the only way to correct the problem is through animal products, is frankly ludicrous".

The study in Kenya involved 544 children with a typical age of seven. Some were fed an extra two ounces of meat a day, while others were given a cup of milk. After two years children fed meat had muscles up to 80 per cent bigger than those with an unsupplemented diet and also showed the biggest improvement in intelligence, activity and leadership skills, Dr Allen reported.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory