Children, teens, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not follow a vegan diet. That was the recommendation last week from Belgium's Royal Academy of Medicine.
Dr. Georges Casimir, a pediatrician at Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital and head of the commission appointed by the academy to study the issue of veganism, discouraged the diet for children and pregnant women due to the possibility of “irreversible” harms. A potential health issue caused by a vegan diet is a lack of sufficient proteins and essential fatty acids for the developing brain.
The medical opinion was requested by a representative of a national human rights organization, who sought guidance for pediatricians and other health care workers. The Royal Academy of Medicine functions as an advisory agency for Belgium's government institutions.
According to the academy, an estimated 3% of Belgian children follow a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived foods. Such an eating plan is “restrictive,” creates “unavoidable” nutritional shortcomings and, if not properly monitored, could lead to deficiencies and stunted development, the academy said.
Casimir said in a statement that vitamins, including essential ingredients such as D and B12, calcium or even trace elements and nutrients essential for proper development are “absent from this diet.”
Isabelle Thiebaut, a co-author of the opinion and president of a European organization for dieticians, said parents must understand “weight-loss and psychomotor delays, undernutrition, anemia” and other possible nutritional shortfalls may be caused by a vegan diet for children.
The U.S. organization for nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has stated in a position paper that “Appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”