A Vegan Diet is Good for Children
Every once in a while, the media covers a sensationalist story about a malnourished child who has been taken away from her parents or died because of an inadequate diet, which is attributed to veganism. This topic is a fertile ground for prejudice, fear, and anger-mongering in a society prone to condemning those who are different.
Considering that a balanced vegan diet is nutritionally adequate for all age groups, including children, these individual cases of neglect of a child's health have been generalized in order to stigmatize vegans or invalidate the vegan diet, even though such cases have nothing to do with it. At the same time, we forget about the fact that currently, there are more obese than malnourished people in the world and that 41 million children under five are obese.
The increase in diseases due to an inadequate diet in children
The diet of most children isn’t lacking in foods of animal origin, but in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that protect against the world's biggest killers. At the same time, most children consume an excessive amount of saturated fats that clog arteries and are found primarily in meat and dairy products. Nine out of ten children eat too much salt, which comes primarily from meat products.
A recent study showed that 40 percent of children aged between 6 and 11 already have elevated cholesterol. High blood pressure is also increasingly common in children. About 70 percent of overweight children have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
Hardly anyone is pointing to the fact that obese children can expect respiration problems and an increased risk of fractures, high blood pressure, and psychological consequences, which is alarming.
In addition, a rising rate of type II diabetes in children has been recorded annually. Children with type II diabetes are at an increased risk of serious diseases such as renal failure, heart attack, and stroke. Worldwide, the number of people with diabetes grew rapidly from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. Studies have shown that people who eat a plant-based diet have a lower risk of developing type II diabetes. A recent report states that diabetic patients on a plant-based diet improved their insulin sensitivity, reduced the amount of drugs, and reduced the intake of saturated fats and cholesterol.
Unlike diets based on foods of animal origin, vegan diets do not contain any cholesterol and are very low in saturated fats. A Cleveland Clinic study published in 2015 showed that children in the vegan group lowered the blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved their body weight, and lowered their sensitivity to two biomarkers for cardiovascular diseases.
Vegans are good parents
Despite the facts, news of children taken away from their parents because they were fed a "vegan" diet triggers concerned and judgmental headlines, such as: "Are parents abusing their children with a vegan diet?" and "Can vegans be good parents?", in spite of the fact that such cases have been established to have nothing to do with a vegan diet.
This creates the image that vegans are irresponsible individuals who are risking the health and lives of their children, which is completely wrong. Most parents use their vegan diet to provide a healthier childhood for their children.
A vegan diet for children is a justified parental choice
People often raise complaints that vegans "force" their child to eat like them. However, it is unreasonable to expect that vegan parents would "force" their children to eat meat, dairy products, and eggs just because most people do it. All parents make decisions for their children, so it’s logical that vegan parents want to, through the diet and education, share with their children the love for animals, the care for the environment and planet on which we live with other beings, and the desire to preserve and improve their own health. While some see the vegan diet as "controversial" or "extreme", vegan parents know that they and their children can lead a healthy and happy life without killing animals and that killing animals is really the controversial and extreme choice.
Vegan parents encourage children to love animals, who are an indispensable part of everyone's growing up. Cows, chickens, and pigs are main characters in picture books, stories, cartoons, and tv shows, they speak and experience various things, teaching children how to live out their own feelings and challenges of growing up. Stories about animals encourage empathy in children, helping them to understand from an early age that animals feel pain and suffering, have desires and emotions, and don’t want to die, just like us.
Parents who feed their children meat and other products derived from animals often hide from their children the truth about where the meat comes from and how the animals that they eat were killed, believing the truth to be unsuitable for children. While preparing meat and offering it to children, they use euphemisms to further disguise the fact that meat is a part of an animal. By hiding the truth, they try to "protect" the child from the fact that the meat on their plate comes from the animals they are being taught to love. This conscious or unconscious lie disturbs and confuses the child because it sends the message that she should disregard the fact that meat used to be a part of a living animal and should be seen only as food. What is more, some parents present eating meat as something normal and natural. In this way, they are teaching their children to suppress their feelings and common sense and see something repulsive as acceptable.
Vegan parents, on the other hand, believe that it’s important to teach children about food and where it comes from. If the truth about the origin of food is too disturbing, then we should stop buying such “food” instead of hiding the truth and encouraging our children to eat the meat of animals that we also teach them to love and protect.
Naturally, every child has the choice to change their diet when they’re old enough. Parents who raise vegan children want it to be a choice resulting from facts and compassion, not habit. Instead of teaching their children to love cats and dogs and eat cows and pigs, vegans teach their children to value the lives of all animals—they instill good eating habits and leave room for a fair choice in adulthood.
Experts confirm that the vegan diet is good for children
Regardless of the type of diet, all parents should make sure that their children eat right, because when the parents are ill-informed about nutrition and don't pay attention to doctors' advice, they put the health of their child at risk, regardless of the choice of diet.
Babies and children can get everything they need through a vegan diet, as confirmed by studies that indicate that a vegan diet can help prevent obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada prepared a very detailed and comprehensive study (the last change was in December 2016), which concludes with the opinion that "well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate [...] at all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes." In addition, the study states that "appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." British nutritionists share this view. World-renowned pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock in his book Baby and Child Care recommends the vegan diet as completely acceptable for a child's health.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of six months, while supplementation can start when the baby is five months old if weight gain is slow. According to conventional recommendations, certain foods of animal origin are to be introduced as the child nears the first birthday, while egg whites and cow's milk are not recommended before the age of one. All children, regardless of the parents' diet, eat mostly plant foods until the age of ten months. The only additional requirement for vegan mothers nursing their infants and for vegan children is taking vitamin B12 from foods or supplements.
A vegan diet, supplemented with vitamin B12, ensures excellent nutrition in all stages of childhood, from birth to puberty. Children who eat nutritionally valuable vegan foods grow to be strong and healthy individuals while reducing the risk of obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes later in life.
Caring for the health and proper development of a child is based on responsibility, knowledge, and cooperation with the pediatrician who is monitoring the development of the child. It is therefore important, through education of parents and media reports, to highlight the importance of feeding the child a nutritionally balanced diet that will meet the needs of the child, regardless of the family's choice of diet. A proof for this are the vegan parents in Croatia whose children are healthy and are doing great on a vegan diet.