by Evangeline Mantzioris
Diets that exclude meat and fish (vegetarian) or all animal products including dairy and eggs (vegan) are becoming increasingly popular for health, environmental and ethical reasons.
Past research in adults has linked vegetarian and vegan diets with a reduced risk of heart disease but a greater risk of fractures, caused by low calcium intakes. But the impact on children has not been evaluated, until the release of a new study this week.
The researchers found a link between shorter heights and lower bone mineral content among vegan children, compared to meat-eaters. But they didn’t show vegan diets caused the difference. Nor can they say the differences will last into adulthood.
How was the study conducted?
The paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the differences in children aged five to ten years of age in Poland.
They looked at 187 healthy children between 2014 and 2016 who had been on their respective diets for at least one year: 72 children were omnivores (meat eaters), 63 were vegetarians and 52 were vegans.
The research team looked at the children’s nutrient intakes, body composition and cardiovascular risk – how likely they are to have heart disease or a stroke in the future.
The study was observational, so researchers didn’t make any changes to the children’s diets. They recruited children who were already eating these diets.
Specifically, it was a type of observational study called a cross-sectional study. They looked back at the children’s diets, growth and cardiovascular risk factors at a given time point.
The research team ensured the children in the vegan and vegetarian group were similar to children in the omnivore group, in factors that impact growth and cardiovascular risk factors. These include sex, age, parental smoking, parental education, clinical characteristics of their mother’s pregnancy and, importantly, their parents’ height.