Study finds potential vegan diet nutritional risks in young kids

A new study out of Finland has evaluated potential health consequences associated with vegan diets specifically in young kids. Though many studies have looked into the potential benefits and downsides of a diet free from animal products, they tend to focus on adults — and, as the new study highlights, those results don't necessarily translate to the right recommendations for children.

Plant-based diets, including vegan diets that exclude all animal products, have become increasingly popular, particularly among youth who cite everything from health focus to eco-friendliness as their reasons for their dietary decisions. Past studies have linked vegan diets with some big health benefits, as well as a few risks, particularly when it comes to nutrient deficiencies.

The new study from the University of Helsinki looked specifically at the potential deficiencies that may be found in young kids who are fed a vegan diet, comparing them to the same vitamin levels found in kids who eat a regular omnivore diet.

Generally speaking, people who eat a vegan diet are advised to supplement it with vitamin D and B12, as well as iodine; in some cases, it may also be necessary to supplement with zinc, calcium, iron, and B2, as well. Of these vitamins and minerals, the study found that young kids fed a vegan diet had the same levels as kids fed an omnivore diet, with the exception of vitamin D.

The vegan families, the study notes, provided their kids with iodine and regular vitamin B12/D supplements — but, it seems, the recommendations made based on adults may not be effective for young kids. The 'significantly lower' vitamin D levels were despite the supplements and the fact that the levels were tested in late summer when sun exposure is greatest.

As well, the study found that the kids fed vegan diets were also lower in vitamin A, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and the essential amino acid docosahexaenoic. However, these same kids were found to have 'remarkably high' folate levels. Though additional research is necessary to better understand the impact of a vegan diet in young kids, the findings indicate that research focused on adults can't be extrapolated to youth.