Vegetarian children more likely to be underweight |
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Vegetarian children more likely to be underweight
Dr Swati Y Bhave, Adjunct Professor in Adolescent Medicine; Dr D Y Patil Medical College, & Dr D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune; Sr. consultant, Adolescent Pediatrics & Head-In-charge of Adolescent Wellness Clinic, Jehangir Hospital Pune,  07 May 2022
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Children who ate a vegetarian diet had higher odds of being underweight compared to those who were non-vegetarians but had similar measures of nutrients like iron and vitamin D, suggests a study of Canadian children reported in the journal Pediatrics.1

Researchers enrolled 8,907 children, aged 6 months to 8 years, from the TARGet Kids! cohort study to search for any association between vegetarian diet and weight, height, serum lipids and micronutrients. Data was collected from 2008-2019. The follow up period was 2.8 years (average). At the time of enrollment, 248 children were vegetarian including 25 who were vegan.

Vegetarian children had a higher probability of being underweight with an odds ratio of 1.87, but had no association with overweight or obesity. Children who drank cow’s milk had higher cholesterol (total, non-HDL and LDL) levels in comparison to those who did not consume cow’s milk. But the serum lipid levels were similar in children who consumed the recommended 2 cups of cows milk daily, regardless of them being vegetarian or not. No correlation between vegetarian diet and serum ferritin or 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were found.

This study has shown that vegetarian children are more likely to be underweight. But no clinically significant differences for growth or iron or vitamin D stores, regarded as biochemical measures of nutrition, were observed for vegetarian diets. Being underweight (low weight for age) is indicative of nutritional imbalance leading to undernutrition which means less than optimal quality of diet required for that age. Underweight also indicates stunting (low height for age) or acute weight loss. Hence, children who are vegetarians should be regularly monitored for growth and nutritional status. The authors suggest “the need for special care when planning the diets of vegetarian children”.


  1. Elliott LJ, et al. Vegetarian diet, growth, and nutrition in early childhood: a longitudinal cohort study. Pediatrics. 2022 May 2;e2021052598. doi: 10.1542/peds.2021-052598.
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