As someone who lives with a vegetarian and eats a lot less meat than I used to, I found this interesting. Paul McCartney says it's rubbish. What do you think?
Teaching Children Not to Eat Meat: Healthy or Unethical?
A recent study showed that children who ate meat developed more muscle mass and scored higher on mental testing than children who did not eat meat. Is raising children on a vegetarian or vegan diet the best thing for the child’s development?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
By Ansley Roche
February 24, 2005
The debate over what to eat seems almost as paradoxical as a war over religion, but the debate continues and there’s new research to fuel it. The results of a longitudinal study conducted in Kenya showed that children who ate two spoonfuls of meat each day almost doubled their muscle development, were more talkative and active and showed more cognitive development than those who did not eat meat. Good news for kids who eat meat, but what about those kids who don’t?
Presented at the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., this study raises questions about vegetarian parents who feed their children vegetarian diets. Professor Lindsay Allen, director of the US Agricultural Research Service’s Western Human Nutrition Research Centre at the University of California at Davis, believes that denying children animal products during the critical development period causes permanent damage.
Meat provides many micronutrients that a growing body needs, including vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and iron. When these vitamins are taken in supplement form, a growing body does not absorb all that it needs and relies on food consumed as a source of these micronutrients.
Allen concedes that adults making the choice to eat vegetarian does not raise ethical issues since adults have passed the very sensitive and energy-intensive process of development. Adults are able to replace certain vitamins and minerals with supplements, but Allen believes that giving children nutritional supplements is too risky.
Conducted over a two-year period, this study involved 544 children in Kenya, all about 7 years of age. The children were divided into four groups. All of the children ate the typical fare, consisting of starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples. One of the groups received two spoonfuls of meat per day in addition to the children’s normal diet. The second group consumed an additional cup of milk and the third group received an oil supplement. Both the milk and oil supplement contained the same amount of energy (calories) as the meat. The fourth group, the control group, received only the food normally given to these children without any supplements to their diet.
Allen reported “that compared with controls that had no intervention, the meat group had 80% more increase in muscle mass over the two years of the study, and the milk and energy group had 40% more increase in muscle mass.” Additionally, the children that ate meat had a larger improvement in test scores for mental skills than the other three groups, and the milk and oil supplement groups showed more improvement than the controls.
Previous research conducted in the United States and Europe has shown impairment in children as a result of eliminating dairy and meat, and another study, conducted in Holland, showed that re-introducing meat and dairy into the diets of vegetarian children at the age of 16 did not reverse the impairment.
In presenting her research, Allen explained the implications, as she sees it, of raising children on a vegetarian diet. “Animal source foods have some nutrients which are not found anywhere else. If you're talking about feeding young children and pregnant women and lactating women I would go as far as to say it is unethical to withhold these foods during that period of life.”
Allen received criticism for her research: one critic, Chair of the Vegan Society, called her remarks “propaganda” for the US meat and dairy industries. She also provoked vegetarians and vegans alike for her belief that withholding animal products from children’s diet is unethical. Sir Paul McCartney, a vegetarian of 20 years and father to vegetarian-raised children, said that Allen’s comments are “rubbish”.
Allen had even stronger views about parents who raise their children on a vegan diet (no cheese, milk or butter in addition to no meat): “There's absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans.”
Critics of Allen also remarked on the narrow demographic studied in Allen’s research. The study was conducted in a developing country with malnourished children, and it would arguably be difficult to apply her findings to children in developed countries who are not struggling with malnutrition, that perhaps there are other factors involved in the development process.
Not only do vegan and vegetarian diets deny children of micronutrients as they naturally occurring in animal food sources, but arguably they also rob the children of a choice. True, these children are not yet mentally independent to make rational choices; they are however, as free-willed as their parents who chose to become vegetarians and vegans.
So the debate continues. But there is one thing that all sides can agree upon: what we eat has an undeniable impact on our physical and mental well being.