Children Thrive on a Vegetarian Diet
Charles R. Attwood, M.D., F.A.A.P.

any school nurses, dietitians, social workers, and even physicians are concerned that a vegetarian diet may retard children's growth. Yet, clinical studies prove this to be a myth. In 1992, after reviewing all available scientific evidence, the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the University of California at San Diego concluded that children on a diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, when consuming adequate calories, not only grow normally, but have actually been shown to attain greater height than meat-eating childen.

Similar findings have been published for over forty years about Seventh-Day Adventist children and their parents who had been on meatless diets since childhood: They've shown no evidence of growth retardation. For example, Loma Linda University compared the growth of 1,765 California children attending state schools and Seventh-Day Adventist schools.

In their report of January 1991. the Seventh-Day Adventist students, who ate far less meat but much more vegetables and fruits than the state school children, attained a greater height.

Like the public and private university studies, government sponsored surveys have reached the same conclusion. The Center for Disease Control studied the growth of 404 vegetarian children -- The Farm Study -- in a rural Tennessee planned community in 1989. Their report, in the prestigious journal Pediatrics, found their growth to be essentially the same as standard growth patterns in the United States.

Third world studies have also confirmed that children grow normally on vegetarian diets. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, editor of this publication and director of the China Health Study, insists that full adult height is attained on a diet based totally on plant foods. He reported a dramatic increase in adult height among the Chinese during the 1953-82 period, when the rural Chinese children consumed more calories from plant protein but without increases in animal protein. He concludes that attaining full body height, even in less industrailized countries, can be obtained with the consumption of a plant-rich diet, if it is adequate in amount, quality, and variety.

And finally, do children under the age of two need more fat and animal products to assure proper growth? Many health authorities who are comfortable with a vegetarian diet for older children remain cautious about reduced fat consumption during the rapid-growth period of infancy. This too, appears to be largely based on a myth. A survey of 51 children purposely placed on a low-fat, mostly plant-based diet by Arizona pediatricians Dr. Steven J. Goldberg and Glen Friedman, reported in the journal Pediatrics in 1976, showed that by the age of 3 these children maintained the same growth rate as childen fed a typical American diet of meat and dairy products.

This much we know: Vegetarian children, who receive adequate calories, grow more slowly during their teens than children consuming animal products, but reach full adult height. The girls have their menarche as much as six years later than those eating a typical American diet. And finally, heart disease and cancer of the breast, prostate, and colon are far less common among adults who grew up as vegetarian children.

From Dr. Attwood's Low-Fat Prescription For Kids

Back to Contents Page