If you’re vegan, you’ve probably seen a few articles about vegan kids who got sick, or unfortunately some who died. And people commenting on them to say “I knew it! This proves being vegan isn’t healthy!” and accusing all vegan parents of child abuse and “forcing their decisions on their kids”. Maybe people send the articles to you or have told you, “I heard of a vegan kid once who got sick.” They’ll usually be brought up in any debate about vegan kids.
These articles generally focus on the parents or child being vegan instead of on facts like that, in a lot of cases, they had an inadequate diet. They also don’t mention that most vegan kids are perfectly healthy and that vegan parents usually make sure their kids eat a balanced diet.
One example, that people mention a lot, is of a very sad case of a baby whose parents fed them a diet of soy milk (not infant formula) and apple juice. This is obviously not an appropriate diet for an infant. The parents could have used properly formulated soy infant formula or breast milk if available, which would have been a totally acceptable diet. If a couple were not vegan and fed their child cows’ milk and apple juice, for example, that would also be an inappropriate diet. So I don’t really think the problem was them being vegan, but them not knowing that a baby needs breast milk or formula.
I read an article today about a toddler who is in hospital with a vitamin B12 deficiency. Surprisingly most of the comments said it was sensationalist and that vegan diets can be healthy if properly planned. (Maybe they were all vegans, or maybe people are finally realising that vegans can be healthy!) Of course there were a few comments about how the kid needs a big juicy steak.
There were also a few people who claimed that a vegan diet is never suitable for a child. I don’t know where they got their information from, but it goes against what most experts say. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.” They are the largest group of dieticians in the US. I don’t know why unqualified people on the internet think they know better.
The article also mentioned that the child was being tested to see if they had a medical condition that caused the B12 deficiency, but most people won’t read much more than the headline. And the headline, of course, said the child was sick because of being raised vegan.
That headline is not exactly true. The child is not sick just because of being raised vegan, but because of not getting enough vitamin B12, whether due to having a poorly planned vegan diet or because of a medical condition, they don’t know yet. I really hope that the child will be better soon and that the parents do provide a good diet for them.
Strangely, I can’t think of any time that I’ve read a story about a non-vegan kid who was deficient in vitamins. That doesn’t usually make the news, and if it did, they wouldn’t mention the child is a meat eater in the headline, or probably anywhere in the article.
There are other kids who are deficient in some nutrients. There are some kids who have illnesses related to their diets. There are kids who are obese. But usually the only kids whose diets are mentioned in the news are a handful of vegan kids. I assume that is because veganism is controversial to a lot of people, or because people love to hate vegans, so they are giving the readers what they want.
Being vegan, you do have to be a bit careful and make sure you have a varied diet with a good source of vitamin B12 (it’s generally recommended to supplement). But you have to be careful with any diet. Meat eaters can be deficient in vitamin B12 and other nutrients too. People can get sick if they don’t have a balanced diet, whether vegan or not.
Kids can live on chicken nuggets and chips and hardly anyone will care. If they become deficient in something, will it make the news? I hope most people would acknowledge that it can be hard to get a kid to eat healthily and won’t blame the parents. But if they were vegan they would be criticised even if their child eats very healthily.
I think a lot of vegan parents feel like we have to work extra hard to give our kids healthy meals to show the world that they eat healthily. I know non-vegan kids can be very healthy too and everyone can get criticised by others. But being vegan seems to draw extra criticism. It’s pretty frustrating if our children eat healthier diets than a lot of kids but we are held to a higher standard.
Most of us vegan parents know that our children’s diets are healthy. We’ve done a lot of reading about it, plan their diets well, and are confident about our choices. But for some vegan parents, especially new vegans, it can be really scary to read articles like this. They might also end up having to constantly defend themselves to worried relatives, friends or doctors. Or compromise on their beliefs because of social pressure.
That’s one of the reasons that I write this blog. To show that my kids are very healthy and eat well. I’ve met loads of vegan parents online and in real life and it’s always so reassuring to see how healthy and full of life their children are.
If these articles stated the truth, that most vegan children are very healthy, but like with any diet, you have to make sure you get all your nutrients, then they’d be a lot more responsible and accurate.