Do vegetarian diets impact growth outcomes for kids?

Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto studied health data of nearly 8,907 Canadian children (aged 6-months to 8-years-old), including 248 vegetarian diet followers, collected between 2008 and 2019 to see whether a vegetarian diet vs. Meat-eating diet had any impact on body weight and other key measurements of growth.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation and SickKids Foundation.

“Over the last 20 years we have seen growing popularity of plant-based diets and a changing food environment with more access to plant-based alternatives, however we have not seen research into the nutritional outcomes of children following vegetarian diets in Canada,”​ said lead author of the study Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto and a scientist at MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital.

In 2019, Canada made updates to its Dietary Guidelines recommending that Canadians opt for plant-based sources (eg legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fortified soy beverages) of protein more often and lower intakes of processed meat and foods high in saturated fat under its Guideline 1 recommendation​.

According to the Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, a shift to more plant-based eating typically results in higher intakes of dietary fiber, fruit and vegetables, nuts associated with decreased LDL cholesterol, and soy protein associated with decreased LDL cholesterol.

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