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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 13:54 GMT
Are vegan diets harmful for children?
A supermarket meat counter
Parents who put their children on strict vegan diets could harm their development, a US nutrition expert has said.

Lindsay Allen, of the US Agricultural Research Service, said denying growing children animal products in their diet during the critical first few years of life was "unethical".

Professor Allen argued that animal source foods have some nutrients not found anywhere else and that pregnant women on vegan diets could be damaging their child while it was growing in the womb.

The Vegan Society dismissed the claims, saying its research suggests that vegans are, on average, healthier than those who eat animal products.

What do you think of the research, do you think children should have animal products in their diet? Are you a parent whose child is on a vegan diet? Were you raised on a vegan diet, and if so, do you think it harmed your development?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

This topic was suggested by Frances Boardman, UK:
What do people think of the current research that shows vegan diets are bad for children?

Humans are omnivores. Therefore a child should be given a balanced diet including "flesh" until they are old enough to understand. Meat-eaters might seem less healthy only because that category includes all junk-food.
Jon, Uckfield, Sussex

As a scientist, I would say that Dr Allen has made a serious mistake. You cannot compare the vegan diet of African children with that of children in a Western nation. The vegan diet which we eat has all the nutritional factors that an adult or child needs, but does not have all the harmful effects of saturated fats, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc, contained in meats. And, beef growth is causing tremendous environmental damage!
Stephen Douglass PhD, Oberlin, OH, USA

Surely substituting naturally occurring vitamin B12 with man-made multivitamins makes common sense?! Particularly in light of the recent food dye cancer scare. Variety and balance are the key elements, especially when children are concerned.
Simon, Colchester, UK

This just seems like another way to set people against one another in the life style choice arena
S, Brussels
This just seems like another way to set people against one another in the life style choice arena. We've seen it before: smokers against non smokers, house-owners against renters, parents against the childfree, and now meat-eaters against vegetarians. Can't we just let people make the choices they deem acceptable for their own lives? In other words, mind our own business?
S, Brussels

It's interesting that even the vegetarian society say on their website that vitamin B12 is not available in any plant food and vegans need to take supplements or eat fortified food to remain healthy. They also specifically warn breastfeeding vegan mothers that their children may be at risk of B12 deficiency. The fact is that veganism is not a natural or sustainable diet for a human without artificial supplements.
Wayne, Pontypridd

It is a well known fact that farming animals requires more land than farming plant products; this would seem to be an issue in a developing country. The issue with development of children was focused around those on a dangerous diet with minimal supplements. The cost of the supplements was not considered and the whole article seemed poor in terms of practical advice for the developing country it was considering. It seemed to lead to a broad statement about vegans in a developed country. Was this really science? Was it funded by the meat industry?
Martin Sillence, Newcastle upon Tyne

Given all the long term (year's long) studies on vegan children in wealthy nations which have showed them to be perfectly healthy, it's odd to have so much credence given to someone extrapolating from a brief study on starving children living poverty so extreme most of us cannot imagine it.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

So, the effect was "lesser" but still "dramatic" in children given only the oil? Sounds like they've re-discovered the fact that hungry kids need more food.
Jacob, Fairfax, Virginia

We all choose a particular diet for our young children before they can choose foods for themselves
Allie Rogers, Brighton, UK
We all choose a particular diet for our young children before they can choose foods for themselves. Most children being raised on a vegan diet benefit greatly from extended breastfeeding - getting them off to a far better start in life than formula fed babies.
Allie Rogers, Brighton, UK

We are as a species omnivores - thus we need a balanced diet of animal and plant material. It really is as simple as that and does need some high minded "I won't eat meat" rubbish. By all means do that if you want but don't force it on your children any more than you should force your religion on them.
John, UK

I am a vegan who takes no vitamin or mineral supplements and am perfectly healthy. Replying to the gentleman who asked who had ever met a vegan over 80? Well how about Harry Shoerats who lived to 111 and worked as a craftsman until he was 104 and cycled to work daily until he was 100. I also agree that you should not impose strange diets on young children which is why I will not force mine to eat animal flesh before they even understand what it is.
Peter, London

The USDA's job is to promote animal agriculture. As a result, their so-called studies cannot be taken seriously; it's propaganda. I am vegan as are my kids and we have better health than the flesh eaters we know.
Peter Wood, United States

Anyone who is on a balanced diet whether they are meat eaters, veggie, or vegan will be perfectly healthy
Mike, UK
The key phrase is 'Balanced diet' anyone who is on a balanced diet whether they are meat eaters, veggie, or vegan will be perfectly healthy. It is harder for vegans to get a good balance than those who eat meat but it can be done. Whilst I do not believe that a child should have Veganism forced on them by their parents there is nothing wrong with them becoming vegan later in life when they are old enough to make that decision for themselves.
As for the vegan soc. statement, well on average too many people eat junk food which is high in salt, sugar, saturated fat, artificial colours preservatives etc so it's no wonder people who eat this kind of rubbish are unhealthy. As a meat eater, mainly white meat, I have always been in good health because as a child I was given sensible well balance meals, all freshly made (no packet or from a jar rubbish) and since going to uni, etc I have continued to cook for myself from scratch. Reducing the amount of chemicals and junk food we eat along with regular exercise will improve anyone's health.
Mike, UK

Veganism has been proven by much medical research to be a legit, healthy lifestyle that is non-injurious when done right. In that means it is no different than any other lifestyle. However the difference with veganism is its reversal and elimination of cancer-causing and other problem-causing agents in the diet. If we want the best for our children, surely we want what veganism offers them.
Ryan Smith, Kansas City, USA

Utter rubbish! Vegan kids positively glow with health, and are leaner. Smaller? So what if we are? But I am 6ft 1" and a mate is 6ft 5" - we are both Vegan.
Matt, Birkenhead UK

The ancient Essene Nazareans and Ebionites are proof that vegan diets are safe. All the requires amino acids can be found in plant foods, as can all the other nutrients we need (including B-12, which comes from bacteria, and DHA, which comes from algae). Lindsay Allen doesn't have the proper credentials to even comment on nutrition information. If she did, she would be better off commenting on the large number of non-vegan people who are clinically malnourished. No matter what your food choices, proper planning is required to have a healthy diet! And if you really want to talk about harm, talk to the large number of mothers who feed their babies formula instead of human breast milk.
Allison Geiger, Philadelphia, PA, USA

I must heartily disagree with the assertions of the US Agricultural Research Service regarding the insufficiency of vegan diets for children. Not only does veganism sidestep the numerous problems with additives, antibiotics and filth that plague the animal industry, but it is healthier for its avoidance of large amounts of saturated fat and other harmful substances. While it is true that many animal products have greater numbers and a wider variety of nutrients than plant foods, it is wholly deceptive and irresponsible - not just of Allen, but of you, BBC! - to publish an assertion that there are nutrients "not found" in plant foods. Scientists have yet to discover a single nutritional compound that is found only in animals. If anyone knows of one, please print me its chemical formula. which produce it.
Dylan Michel, Cincinnati, United States

I would suggest that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that a vegan diet can be 'harmful' for adults. Thus this new research simply reinforces the fact that a balanced diet for all ages is an essential component in a healthy life. To that end it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the child receives a balanced diet until that child has reached a level of maturity that enables them to make their own decisions.
Adrian, Nottingham, England

I stopped eating meat when I was five. Although my mum was vegetarian, it was my choice. Looking back, I don't understand why I was ever given meat in the first place. It's just as much forcing a diet on a child to make them eat meat as it is to not give them meat. After all, parents dictate lots of things in a child's life: what they eat, how late they can stay up and so on. That's part of being a parent. The point is it's every parent's responsibility to ensure their child gets a balanced diet. And it's perfectly possible to have a balanced vegan diet. Independent health organisations, such as the World Health Organisation and the American Dietetic Association to name but two, have carried out research and come to the conclusion that vegetarian diets, including veganism, are 'adequate for all stages, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and adolescents'.
Cat, Devon

As someone who works in science, I think too much is being read into the study. All that is said was that young, malnourished children benefit dramatically from the addition of a small amount of meat to the diet, no more and no less! Dr. Allen went too far in speculating on the ramifications of her limited results, and more so by going to the press with it. She does not have the evidence (that I am aware of) to support the rest of her claims. Any diet taken to an extreme is harmful, hence the whole "balanced" diet: lots of greens and veggies, small amounts of meats, dairy, eggs, and fruits, and stay away from refined/processed foods as much as you can!
Sean, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Humans are meat eaters, and it will take several more thousand years for evolution to change that! Let's not forget that any side effects may not become apparent for several generations. We mess around with nature at our peril and, more importantly, the peril of generations yet to come.
Tim, Herne Bay, England.

That was a ridiculously un-scientific study. It proves absolutely nothing other than that an unbalanced diet of any kind will be bad, which I thought was quite obvious.
Brendan, Canada

Thank God I am now a vegan. The comments from non-vegans are very amusing. I am so happy I did the research. Would recommend all non-vegans open their minds and read peer-reviewed scientific data.
Kevin, Ascot

Eating meat may exacerbate certain illnesses, but it at least preserves us carnivores from the almost painful smugness that seems to afflict vegans (if the comments here are anything to go by!)
Mark, UK

There are thousands if not millions of vegans (by religious conviction) in India and they live to a ripe old age. Maybe it's the genetically modified, pesticide laden vegetable matter the vegans in the US eat that's the problem.

If we were all to eat organically produced food, there would be no problem. Meat is essential for a balanced diet. Sure, organic food may be a tad more expensive, but the more people who buy it, the cheaper it will become.
Ed, UK

The human body requires animal protein
Duncan, Kingswood, Surrey
What people do not tend to understand is that meat protein is structurally different to plant protein, and the human body requires animal protein to help in creation and maintenance of body cells. Without the right amount of meat, growing children will simply not develop healthily.
Duncan, Kingswood, Surrey

I had been trying to get pregnant for about 15 years with no success. I went on a vegan diet 6 years ago, and got pregnant. After a very healthy pregnancy I gave birth to a beautiful 7lb 13oz daughter - Anya. She is now nearly 4 years old. She is larger than average and very bright. So I am very pleased to say that the vegan diet has so far been an excellent choice.
Evie Sier, Eastbourne, England

I was raised vegan and acknowledge my parents' choice to do so as a gift. I am now a very healthy adult capable of making responsible food choices. I do not need to take supplements. If you compare vegans with non-vegans, the bulk of research shows vegans to be healthier and to have longer lives. I do not think raising a child as a vegan is "unethical". Perhaps we need to look at the ethics involved in the treatment of the animals we humans eat, instead.
Kim, Calgary, AB

Let's not give into lobby groups who deny their products are unhealthy
Catriona Rae, Canada
Animal foods are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, antibiotics, and potentially harmful bacteria. At a time when nearly half of the population of the developed world is overweight, and heart disease is rapidly outpacing cancer as the number one cause of death, a vegan diet - which avoids cholesterol and saturated fat - is a healthy choice (not to mention the threat of CJD, which has not gone away). Of course, any diet that is based on unhealthy foods like chips and fizzy juice is unhealthy. This can be said of any diet, whether it is one which includes meat or not. I would argue that a balanced vegan diet - one where attention is paid to assuring sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals are consumed, is entirely adequate for people of any age. Let's not give into lobby groups who deny their products are unhealthy so they can continue to collect large profits.
Catriona Rae, Canada

Saying that some kids in Africa that eat a very limited range of vegan food are representative for the vegan concept as we know it in the rich world is plainly bad science. Bad by intention, or simply sloppy work. Of course that if you add something to the diet of some badly (and possibly under) fed kids they will do better. I am not a vegan, but sometimes I wonder what people would do, if there would be a law stating that if you want to eat animal meat you have to kill it yourself, at least from time to time.
Vlad, Toronto, Canada

The vegans are arguing that this report is somehow promoting burger-chomping in their defence. But it is not, the report says that veganism for children is wrong and there have been thousands of reports on the ills off fast food.
Mohsin Khan, London, UK

Maybe we should stop worrying quite so much about questions which, given the varied responses, seem rather academic - it seems possible to give your children a healthy diet as a vegan or as an omnivore, just as it is possible to be unhealthy on both of these diets. Maybe we should worry more about getting those who are starving around the world (including these African children) enough to eat full stop. Given that you can feed far more people on a field full of soya than a field's worth of cows, I think there might be something to be said for the vegan diet...
Alison, Brussels, Belgium

Why, if a vegan diet is so healthy, do so many have to take vitamin/mineral supplements? This suggests that the diet is not sufficient for an omnivore. Eating lean meat, fish, poultry (as humans have evolved to do), especially organic, as well as plenty of fruit and veg is beneficial. Eating processed food of any kind can be harmful whether it be vegetarian or not.
Phil, Worcester

To all the people calling veganism healthy. How many people over 80 do you know who are vegans? I have yet to meet one. You cannot dismiss thousands of years of dietary history and say that a bit of scientific research on a fad diet proves that veganism is healthy. It might tick all the boxes right now, but its yet to be proven over a single generation, and until it is, I would never subject my children to such a regime. We know meat and milk are good for you, we do not know that withholding it is.
Dan C, Shropshire

If a parent wishes to give a child a healthier diet, restrict junk food, not meat and dairy
Jules, Nottingham, UK
Trying to restrict a child to a vegan diet in today's world seems almost cruel. When children all around them are eating meat, cheese and milk, it seems it would be difficult to keep them from wanting these things. They taste good and they aren't really "bad" for them. I believe that children should enjoy the proper amounts of all the food groups and a decision to be vegan should be made as an adult. If a parent wishes to give a child a healthier diet, restrict junk food, not meat and dairy.
Jules, Nottingham, UK

The beauty of being human is that our diet is pretty much unrestricted, enabling us, unlike many other animals, to survive in all kinds of different circumstances. Eat what you like and don't lecture other people!
Anna, London

For every piece of research showing one thing there is another showing its opposite. I have been a vegan for 10 years and, at 54, have been told I have the bone density of a 25-year-old. Keep taking the soya! I can't help thinking it is in the interests of the powerful meat and dairy lobbies to continue to promote animal based diets. Professor Allen's research will be welcomed by them. However, it's interesting to see how much coverage the story is getting compared to the coverage of research showing how healthy the vegan diet is. I would be much happier feeding children my own diet than a diet based on the junk food that fills our supermarket shelves. There is, of course, the question of compassion to the animals but that's another chapter.
Diana Cox, Logrono, Spain

Data generated by scientists who receive funding from organisations that may have a vested interest in a particular result or outcome should always be regarded with cynicism.
Dr A Greenall, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Meat consumption is known to cause or accelerate many illnesses
Gavin, Lincoln
Do children decide for themselves to eat meat? Putting a child on a vegan diet is no more the parents' choice than feeding the child meat. Has anybody ever died of veganism?! Meat consumption is known to cause or accelerate many illnesses. It all comes down to people being brainwashed that eating meat is "natural" and "normal".
Gavin, Lincoln

To compare the diets of impoverished African children to a well balanced vegan diet is simply bad science. There is no doubt that meat can provide concentrated nutrients, but there is nothing in this research that proves that a proper, balanced vegan diet is unhealthy. The only thing it proves is that eating nothing but corn and beans is unhealthy.
Chris Poupart, Montreal, Canada

Many people go vegan not for the animals and not for the environment, but for their health. A diet free of cholesterol and saturated fat puts you at lower risk for just about every disease in the book: heart disease, many cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and more. Anyone that thinks gorging themselves on animal products is healthier than a well-balanced diet of plant-based foods is delusional, and has done no research what-so-ever. I'm vegan, as are my children. We will never be obese, never have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and won't die of a heart attack in the middle of our lives like 50% of the developed world will.
Quinn, Butler, NJ, USA

A well-balanced diet is what a child needs, with as few additive/processed foods and drinks as possible. Vegan diets are dangerous to children, making them prone to health problems. People who insist on these fad diets are being extremely selfish to the child inflicting their narrow views on them, rather than allowing them to develop naturally.
Chris Kisch, Milton Keynes

At a time when our burger-fuelled children have dangerously high levels of obesity, a survey that calls it "unethical" to raise children on a nutritionally rich diet of fruit and vegetables seems highly unethical in itself. I can't help noticing that this survey was conducted by an offshoot of the organisation that represents the interests of America's meat producers.
Kevan, London, UK

Any diet, whether omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, can be harmful to a child's health if not researched properly
Cailin, Butler, NJ, USA
Any diet, whether omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, can be harmful to a child's health if not researched properly. And on the other hand, any diet can be nutritious and completely healthy if researched properly. Personally, I'd rather feed my children a vegan diet of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over an omnivorous one of cholesterol and saturated-fat-laden fast food any day.
Cailin, Butler, NJ, USA

Vegan diets are probably healthy if you are an adult and are fully developed. However, babies, especially those under the age of one, need fats from dairy products and meat in order for their brains to develop properly - the brain is largely made of fat. Humans have always eaten some meat as part of their diet, and we have evolved to need for development, so it should not be cut out of children's diets ever.
Emma, Cambridge, UK

Vegetarianism and veganism all sound like nice concepts, but Professor Allen's comments are not the first time alarm bells have been rung over animal source free diets for children. Getting protein into children is about both number and complexity of the protein. Yes, a number of proteins can be obtained from vegetable sources, but not the complexity. Complexity comes from working through the food chain. Vegan claims they are on average healthier is probably true. One suspects that is more due to the fact that vegans also tend to avoid alcohol, tobacco, drugs and obesity.
Jim, Epsom

The Vegan Society has been going for 60 years and has thousands of healthy members, many of whom raise their children as vegans. Why should the result of one small study, in one environment, be a challenge to decades of proof that veganism is entirely healthy.
James Southwood, London

It is something that a child should do only when they fully understand its purpose
Amy, Berks
I'm 20 and have been vegetarian for 13 years. It is one of the best decisions I've ever made. However, I disagree with parents making this decision for their children as it is something that a child should do only when they fully understand its purpose - especially a diet as drastic as veganism. Children need to be given the opportunity to try different foods for themselves and then cut out what they don't like. Parents have to remember that a baby cannot tell its parent that it feels ill because it's not had enough to eat.
Amy, Berks

There is much talk here of "forcing children to be vegan". Who is forcing children to eat meat? Surely this comes down to what is to be considered "normal" in an ethical world.
Joe, North Carolina, US

I think a vegan diet is very healthy for a child. In a world of overweight children which is mostly caused by fatty foods and over consumption of dairy products (like ice cream and cheesy foods for example), a vegan diet is quite healthy. A lot of non-vegan children don't get enough vegetables, where as a vegan child gets plenty. A plant based diet is typically lower in fat (the fats that are in the diet are healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) and cholesterol-free.
Natalie, PEI, Canada

A vegan diet can be balanced and with no need for supplements. I think the problem is more that parents are trying to feed their children on a restricted vegan diet, not knowing where else to find the important calcium and vitamins that people ordinarily get from red meat and dairy. It is possible if planned and researched properly. Mammals are not made to consume dairy products beyond around the age of eight. Originally this is when our tolerance for lactose was turned off, however because of the way our eating habits have evolved in western society most people are lactose tolerant their whole lives. Dairy and animal products are not necessary if you have a good knowledge of the nutritional value of foods.
Laura, Newcastle, England

Vegans seem to have got it all wrong in my opinion. Such things as fatty acids are essential to brain growth and development throughout life. These are only available in meat, especially fish. Without fatty acids and glycerols the brain develops badly. This was fully supported by an article in Nature that I read a few months ago. Why does no-one listen to us scientists anymore? Is it simply that people are too arrogant to see nascent problems for themselves?
Jarl, Notts, UK

Children of vegans are often actually healthier than their peers due to the fact that the parents are much more knowledgeable about nutrition
Karen, Southampton, England
The research quoted in the article involved children already on a very poor diet. Therefore, any supplement to that diet is going to help them. I noticed that the only supplements given were meat or dairy based. It therefore does not follow that a vegan diet is bad. Perhaps some of the children should have been given a healthy vegan diet. Children of vegans are often actually healthier than their peers due to the fact that the parents are much more knowledgeable about nutrition and make sure they get the correct foods rather than the muck a lot of children live on.
Karen, Southampton, England

To say we "have evolved to eat meat" based on our teeth is nonsense. We don't have the capacity to eat raw meat, we cook it then cut it with knives. Of more danger is the poor diet. This study was based on people who were undernourished anyway. In the West where we all eat too much, the problem of missing nutrients does not occur.
Foxie, Wales

My son and I are both vegan, and my wife is vegetarian. We are all in excellent health, as we eat a good supply of fruit and veg, making sure we include all the necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals we need. It's not difficult. People particularly comment on how lively and healthy my son looks, and our GP and health visitor are aware of our diets and happy that we know what we are doing. Many millions of vegans raise very healthy children in developed Asian countries, it is only here in the meat-obsessed West where it is seen as unusual. Making children eat meat and drink milk meant for weaning cows strikes me as abusive what with all the steroids, growth hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals pumped into factory farmed animals. Surely, opting into the world of eating meat and packaged foods containing potentially carcinogenic chemicals is something that should not be forced, but offered to a child in later life?
Jon, Winchester, UK

This report is promoting the American diet to the rest of the World - even though the story goes on to say that all the children given a supplement preformed better. Lindsay Allen says it is unethical for parents to bring up their children as vegan and then gives information of how she has with-held what she believes to be necessary nutrition from a group of African children she is experimenting on - presumably she would not have been allowed to do this in the USA. The crux of this report is that World malnutrition could be avoided if everyone ate meat - absolute rubbish - ethically the World could not support this and many reports which would refute this. The B12 deficiency you mentioned could have been remedied with a spoonful of Marmite and a spoonful of linseed oil a day (and I don't need to put hundreds of African children's life at risk to prove that).
Mandie Davis (Vegan for 9 years - married to nutritionist), UK

The decision to follow a vegan lifestyle is one which can only be made by an adult after careful consideration of all the factors. Children do not have the necessary information or reasoning ability to make such a defining decision and a responsible parent wouldn't make it for them.
Robert, Dorchester, UK

The conclusions drawn are totally irrelevant to any vegan/vegetarian in the Western world. The fact that malnourished and vitamin deficient children in Africa do better when given better nutrition (from meat products) is of no relevance to Western parents feeding their children a balanced vegan or vegetarian diet.
Michael Beverley, UK

A vegan diet is probably too extreme for young children
John Ellman, UK
A vegan diet is probably too extreme for young children. But let's face it, the biggest dietary problem facing children in Britain today isn't veganism but junk food.
John Ellman, UK

I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, but I did not find the evidence and opinions presented in the article convincing. The study mentioned is grossly unethical. These are people, not rats! Also it is completely inapplicable to vegans in wealthy countries who have very different diets from starving Africans with no access to meat. The comments of Lindsay Allen are also not surprising given the current USDA's flagrant conflicts of interest with the industries it is supposed to regulate. No doubt the inclusion of meat products in US food aid would be a nice windfall to certain politically connected agricultural firms.
Benjamin Goldman-Huertas, USA (Puerto Rico)

I am not yet a mother myself, but I strongly believe that it is wrong to force a particular diet on a child. Young children need a healthy and balanced diet in order to grow and develop, and to potentially deny them this has to be ethically wrong. If, once the child has reached a sufficiently mature age to be able to make an informed decision based on evidence and their own beliefs, they decide to follow a vegan diet, then surely that should be their choice?
Vicky, Dronfield, Derbyshire

First of all, I would be very sceptical of any research conducted by the US Agricultural Research Service, fearing a lack of impartiality. It is highly unlikely that the USARS would present any research findings indicating anything other than beneficial to US agricultural corporation's pocketbooks. Second, this research has not been reviewed by a body of scientific peers to determine the quality and objectiveness of the work conducted. Third, the research was conducted on a small group of children of very similar background. A group of children existing on small quantities of corn and beans will show malnutrition and the inclusion of any other form of sustenance, meat or otherwise, will demonstrate a remarkable improvement of health. As a person with an academic background in biochemistry, I know that all the nutritional elements essential to the human body can be obtained in sufficient quantities from a varied vegan diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, and grains, nothing else?
Kyle Bolduc, Michigan, US

Although I hardly ever eat meat I am receptive to Lindsay Allen's arguments. The Vegan Society's argument appears to be flawed. There may be evidence to show that average vegans are more 'healthy' than average meat eaters, but I bet this research only looked at adults, and that most of these adults converted to veganism after going through a meat eating childhood. There is a big difference between saying that adults are healthier under a vegan diet and saying that children grow up 'healthier' with a vegan diet rather than one which includes meat. The nutritional needs of children are not the same as those of adults.
BS McIntosh, Milton Keynes, UK

People are free to eat or not eat whatever they like, however they have no right to force anyone to follow the same diet (whose benefits are dubious), especially if it is a developing child who is too young to be able to make an informed choice and has no say in this matter.
Stephanie, London

Perhaps the conclusions drawn from this research are just too simplistic
Louise, Newport, Wales
I do think it's a bit difficult to draw firm conclusions when the study was carried out in Africa on children whose diet perhaps lacked the other sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and fats which I hope any sensible vegan would include in theirs. It's easy enough for vegans in the west to include nuts, pulses, lentils, soya and other grains in combination in order to achieve the balance of nutrients in a manner which is easiest to absorb. I was vegan for a couple of years, but stopped when I went to uni and had to start thinking about what to eat rather than leaving it up to my mum to buy! If there's only a choice of one type of protein and fat in a diet, it's not therefore surprising that the animal one came out on top. So, perhaps the conclusions drawn from this research are just too simplistic.
Louise, Newport, Wales

Eating moderate amounts of meat certainly doesn't harm children. There is no reason to put them on a vegan diet in the first place. If you are worried about animal welfare, buy organic meat.
Steve, London, UK

If the human body was designed to be vegan, we wouldn't have been born with incisors and we would have multiple stomachs. Being vegan is morality over nature. As with religion, children should decide by themselves and not be forced into it by their parents.
Mike, Brighton

You don't need to be an expert to have concluded that a vegan diet, like any other prohibitive and restrictive diet is not balanced and therefore not good.
Oliver, UK

Nature designed us to eat meat as well as veg. Who are we to argue with nature? If a car needs diesel we don't put petrol in do we? Our bodies need a variety of nutrients and we are equipped to derive those nutrients from all sorts of sources, including meat. Have you ever seen a healthy looking vegan? Those that I have met have been pale, pasty, weak and neurotic. That is their choice and I respect that. However, they should not impose their selfish regimes on their children. Children should be fed the food a human is designed to eat while they are growing. Then, when old enough to understand the arguments for and against they can make their own minds up.
Mark, UK

Imposing your own lifestyle choices on those in your care, who know no better, is tantamount to brainwashing. The "get them when they're weak" methodology is one that should be familiar to purveyors of religion, and is just as despicable regardless of the objective. On the other hand, if you want to raise vegan automatons with no concept of choosing for themselves, then there is no better place to start.
Pete, Exeter

I am vegetarian but I would never force my children to stick to a vegetarian diet. I am a veggie by choice and it is selfish for a parent to make their children stick to their views. I would happily cook a steak for my kids if that was what they wanted.
Mark S

Humans are both meat and plant eaters for a reason
Chris Davies, Chippenham, UK
Yes they are. Humans are both meat and plant eaters for a reason. A child needs a good mix from different foods to get all the protection, etc, they need. Once into adult hood if they want to go vegan they can as long as the diet provides all that is needed. Meat/fish is very important in brain development.
Chris Davies, Chippenham, UK

I don't think it's a case of requiring animal products (although introduction to them might prevent allergies). It's more about obtaining the right vitamins for growing children. If they are on vegan diets, they should be on special vegan multi-vitamin supplements too !
S, Hove

Of course they are. We are carnivores and as such means we are supposed to consume meat. It is wrong to deny a child a healthy start in life. If, however, when they are fully developed, by all means let them opt for a vegan diet. If followed correctly, a vegan diet can give an adult all the nutrients they need. What must not happen is for parents to deny their children the essential nutrients for a growing body and mind. It is wrong to deny a child a healthy diet and whilst a parent obviously makes decisions for a child's wellbeing until they are old enough for themselves, this should not be to the detriment of the child concerned.
Karen, London, UK

I certainly don't agree with putting newborn babies and small children on vegan diets. I've spent the last year trying to accommodate all my daughter's inherited food allergies into a balanced diet and it's clear to see on her growth charts the period we had without dairy products, formula replacements were simply not up to the job and a clear dip is shown in her development, luckily she has quickly caught up and has not been affected in the long term. Besides which being a vegan, like choosing a religion, should be each individual's choice and must never be forced.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK

I guess that there are benefits to the vegan diet, but there are also benefits to meat eating, which is why the mouth is equipped with teeth for both purposes. However, the question remains, are vegan babies allowed to be breast fed?
Tom Knapp, Leeds

A wide-ranging mixed diet with exercise is essential for any child
James, Cornwall, UK
We as human beings are omnivores, we have evolved this way. A wide-ranging mixed diet with exercise is essential for any child.
James, Cornwall, UK

The lack of certain vitamins and minerals that can only be found in red meat will of course harm both children and adults alike. A friend of mine is strictly vegan and she has to take daily pills because of the things she is missing from her diet.
Stephen, Cardiff



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