The dietary intake and growth of vegetarian children (aged 7-11 years) compared with omnivores in North West England
During a one year longitudinal study, the dietary intake and growth of 50 vegetarian children aged 7-11 years was compared with that of 50 age-, sex- and race-matched omnivores. Diet was assessed at 6 month intervals using three, 3-day diet diaries and follow-up interviews. Anthropometric measurements (height, weight, mid-arm circumference, biceps and triceps skinfolds) were similarly taken 3 times. Multiple stepwise regression was used to control for non nutritional factors that affect growth. A questionnaire was administered at baseline to all children and their parents, to determine socio-economic status, health related behaviour and parents, ' height. Finger-prick blood samples were obtained from a sub-sample to measure haemoglobin (n=35 pairs) and cholesterol (n=32 pairs). Activity profiles were obtained using 12 hour heart-rate telemetry (n=20 pairs). Vegetarian and omnivorous groups were similar for socioeconomic group and health related behaviour. The predicted growth increment (0.47cm) of the vegetarians was significantly greater (p=0.05)' than that of the omnivores. Energy and sugars intakes of the vegetarians were significantly lower than those of the omnivores, fat and iron intakes were similar, whilst P: S ratio, NSP and calcium intakes were higher. The mean (SD) haemoglobin level of the vegetarians (11.8 (0.2g/dl)) was significantly below (p=0.04) that of the omnivores (12.4 (0.2)g/dl) but cholesterol levels were similar. Heart-rates were slightly higher for the vegetarians than the omnivores. The diet of the vegetarian children more closely resembled current recommendations although they need to be as vigilant as omnivores to reduce their intake of fat, and care is needed to ensure optimal iron status. The results of this study suggest that vegetarian children who include dairy products grow at least as well as those children who eat meat.