Vegetarian Children and Obesity

The physical growth and development of vegetarian children and adolescents is addressed in another chapter of this volume. In general, younger vegetarian children tend to be leaner than non-vegetarians,20 and this

N

Adventist Mortality (USA)

6287 9257

Adventist Health (USA)

4834 11904

Heidelberg (Germany)

603 370

Oxford (England)

3071

3801

3971

Adventist Mortality (USA)

5023

Adventist Health (USA)

3169 9045

Heidelberg (Germany)

480 304

Oxford (England)

1603

Men

Body mass index, kg/sq m

Vegetarian Non-vegetarian

Figure 5.4 Mean BMI of vegetarians and non-vegetarians from four epidemio-logical studies.

attribute also tends to be present among older vegetarian children and adolescents, although limited research data are available for older children. Lousuebsakul and Sabate21 studied anthropometric data of 870 children aged 7 to 18 years who were attending Seventh-Day Adventist schools in California. One third of them were vegetarian. A vegetarian lifestyle was associated with lower BMI and a decreased tendency to be overweight, especially in adolescent girls. Specifically, age- and height-adjusted analysis showed that vegetarian boys and girls were, on average, 1.4 kg and 1.0 kg, respectively, leaner than their non-vegetarian classmates. Also, BMI values and skinfold measurements were lower among vegetarians. The prevalence of obesity (BMI > 75th percentile of national standards) was lower among vegetarian adolescent girls. In view of the relationship of childhood obesity to adult corpulence,7 the adoption of a vegetarian lifestyle during the school years may not only lower the risk of obesity at adolescence, but may also actually decrease the risk of adult obesity. Moreover, data from the Harvard Growth Study indicates that being overweight during adolescence predicts adult morbidity from several chronic degenerative diseases and mortality from all causes regardless of adult body weight.22 Thus, it is suggested that the prevention of obesity in childhood and adolescence by the adoption of a vegetarian diet may subsequently decrease a broad range of adverse health effects in adulthood.

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