Children on Vegan Diets Run Risk of Malnutrition, Illness

(Photo: Public Domain Images)

(Photo: Public Domain Images)

In Milan, Italy, a 14-month-old toddler was taken to the hospital earlier this month because the child weighed slightly more than an average three-month-old. The child, who had been kept on a vegan diet with no dietary supplements, was dangerously malnourished and suffered from precariously low levels of calcium.

Physicians were appalled by the child's condition when his grandparents showed up with the boy. Even worse, the baby had to have an emergency operation because of a congenital heart condition that had been exacerbated by his low calcium levels, according to Mary Hui of The Washington Post.

Italy's The Local writes that physicians reported the case to social services and the parents have lost custody of the child. Hospital Director of Pediatrics Luca Bernardo told the Daily Telegraph that the case "forces us to reflect on uncommon feeding regimes."

"It is not a problem to choose different or unusual kinds of nutrition, and we certainly do not want to enter into a discussion of the merits of the decision. But since birth, the baby should have had support in this case with calcium and iron," Bernardo said.

Italy has seen several cases of illness for youngsters on vegan diets over the last few months. The cases resulted in the hospitalization of the children involved because of malnutrition.

In Genoa, a two-year-old was brought to an emergency room in June and spent several days in intensive care because of vitamin deficiencies and low levels of hemoglobin. In the same month, vegan parents in Florence brought their 11-month-old baby to the hospital where the child was treated for severe malnutrition.

Other countries have faced the same kind of cases. In the US, a six-week-old infant boy died of starvation in 2004. The vegan parents were sentenced to life in prison because they fed their baby only soy milk and apple juice.

In 2007, the Atlanta couple was charged and found guilty of murder, manslaughter, and cruelty to children. In 2011, a vegan couple who lived in France were accused of child neglect following the death of their 11-month-old young one because of vitamin deficiencies. They are awaiting trial.

The Italian Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does not say that a vegan diet is wrong, but does note that such an eating plan should be supplemented with vitamin B 12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. The academy also recommends that parents who choose this approach consult a dietician.

The 14-month-old Italian toddler is recovering in the hospital, and the grandparents are awaiting the determination of authorities as to whether they will have custody of the child.

Vegetarian diets for adults lead to healthier, slimmer, and longer lives, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Those who support this eating plan note that diverse choices of fruits and vegetables provide the correct amount of protein, minerals, and other necessary health-positive nutrients.

Clark Mindock, writing for the International Business Times, says advocates for choosing vegan diets for children advise that these eating regimens require closer supervision than traditional meal plans so that children can receive all the nutrients they need.

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