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Vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice is becoming more popular among Canadian families. A 2002 survey (1
) in Canada revealed that 4% of adults claimed to be vegetarian. Approximately 2% of six- to 17-year-olds in the United States are described as vegetarians, and approximately 0.5% of this age group professes to be strictly ‘vegan’ (2
). A variety of influences are acknowledged by vegetarians including concern for the environment, long-term health benefits, religious beliefs and economic concerns (3
). In addition, the influence of a diverse ethnic population now seen in North America has had some effect (5
). Restaurants and the retail food industry have responded to this interest by offering a great variety of products.
A PubMed search (1980 to 2008) using the key words “children”, “adolescents”, “vegetarian diets”, “growth” and “nutritional problems” was conducted on this topic.
The concept that a well-balanced vegetarian diet can provide for the needs of a growing child and adolescent is supported by Canada’s Food Guide (6
), the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada (7
), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (8
). There is sufficient evidence from well-developed studies (9
) to conclude that children and adolescents grow and thrive well on vegetarian diets that are well designed and supplemented appropriately.
However, certain components of these diets and some required nutrients may be in short supply and need specific attention. This is particularly true in the case of strictly vegan diets and other very restrictive diets in which significant medical consequences could result from inattention to nutrient needs. The present statement highlights some of these areas and recommends appropriate interventions.