Something deeply depressing is happening to the diet of our children. For many, fresh fruit and vegetables are completely alien, fibre is almost unknown and the consumption of denatured processed foods is a daily event. We are deep into the burger, chips and sweets culture and obesity is booming. Effectively, children’s consumption of sugar and fat – much of it animal fat – is out of control.
Some estimates claim that as many as 40 per cent of all UK children are eating three times the recommended levels of both. These diets are far worse than those their parents ate and so the prognosis for future cases of cancer and heart disease, already at epidemic proportions, is extremely worrying. The first signs of atherosclerosis have already been identified in children (120). In this context, the doom-laden warnings that some journalists give to teenagers about the risks of a vegetarian diet are nothing short of laughable. Many, if not most, young people eat an extremely poor diet. Of course, anyone can eat a poor diet, including vegetarian children, but the science shows that giving up meat and animal fats is one of the healthiest moves anyone can make, regardless of their age.
Vegetarian children grow and develop in exactly the way they should (127, 128) and developmental tests show their mental age to be over a year in advance of their chronological age (129), and they have a higher IQ (150). There is also evidence that they enter puberty later, which has shown to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer later in life (130, 131).
Studies done in the 1940s, shortly after the war when little meat and dairy was available, showed that children grow and develop quite normally on a diet consisting of plenty of bread and vegetables with minimal amounts of milk and meat (132). In fact, a whole string of studies has shown that vegetarian and vegan children develop healthily and normally (121, 133).
The BMA considers that a vegetarian diet contains all the necessary nutrients and is suitable for infants. The ADA agrees that infants, children and adolescents all grow and develop normally and that vegetarian diets can be healthy and satisfy all their nutritional needs. A scientific review published recently in the Journal of Pediatric Health Carebacked this, stating: “Nurse practitioners… can reassure parents, children, and adolescents that a well-planned vegetarian diet is a healthy choice that promotes growth and decreases the risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer,”(141). (See Viva!Health's Veggie Health for Kids guide for more information on bringing up children on a vegetarian or vegan diet.)