New research suggests that children who follow a vegetarian diet have similar measures of growth and nutrition to kids who eat meat.

Researchers at St Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health in Toronto, Canada, recently assessed the diets of more than 8,900 children. They compared the health of those who ate meat and those who didn’t.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that those who followed meatless diets had “similar growth and biochemical measures of nutrition compared to children consuming non-vegetarian diets.” 

The vegetarian children were at higher risk of being underweight. But the researchers did not assess the specific content of each individual child’s diet.

Vegetarian diets vary greatly. While some are balanced and consist of a number of fruits and vegetables, this is not always the case.

The lead author of the study, pediatrician Dr. Jonathan Maguire, said: “Plant-based dietary patterns are recognized as a healthy eating pattern due to increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and reduced saturated fat. However, few studies have evaluated the impact of vegetarian diets on childhood growth and nutritional status.”

He added: “Vegetarian diets appear to be appropriate for most children.”

Moving away from meat

The study comes as more and more Canadians choose to give up meat. In 2018, one study found that more than half of the population was interested in eating fewer animal products.

Another study in 2020 found that 75 percent of Canadians believe eating less red meat is important for the planet. And in 2019, the country overhauled its official Food Guide, advising people to consume more sources of plant-based protein.

Canada’s not alone. In 2021, one poll found that more than half of young Americans consider themselves flexitarian.

And in 2020, one European survey by Dutch ingredients firm Griffith Foods concluded that people across the continent are reducing their meat consumption rapidly.

The firm’s president said at the time: “That has major implications for food retail manufacturers and producers, and their response to capture and cater to this newfound mass market.”

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