Preschool children in India are at much higher risk of exhibiting stunting, wasting, and anemia than children found in many other countries, making them the largest proportion of the global burden for these conditions. Many studies have examined the factors contributing to malnutrition in India, but few have addressed the impacts of vegetarianism among parents on linear growth. A recent study by Heady and Palloni explored this issue and have published the results of their study in the June 2020 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Data for this study were derived from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and the National Sample Survey (NSS). Observations for stunting and wasting (0-59 months), and anemia (6-59 months) were used to identify associations between these factors and parental vegetarian status.
Wasting and stunting of children with lactovegetarian mothers were less likely to occur, whereas children with vegan mothers were more likely to exhibit stunting. Lactovegetarian households were more likely to consume dairy frequently, and their socioeconomic status was better. The authors found that the frequency of dairy consumption by the mother was associated with lower risks for stunting and wasting. This led the authors to conclude that the vegetarian status of the mother impacted the anthropometric outcomes of their children.
In a commentary on this article, Kurpad and Thomas note the work by Headey and Palloni is a significant addition to the literature that attempts to understand relationships between animal source foods and the growth of children. These authors caution it is difficult to accurately assess food consumption patterns in India because of the cultural and political pressures, leading to incorrect reporting of vegetarian status. Kurpad and Thomas concur that inclusion of dairy in the diets of young children could lead to improved child growth, but that economic circumstances will make it difficult to make significant inroads in providing this bioavailable nutrient source to children in India.
References Headey DD, Palloni G. Stunting and wasting among Indian preschoolers have moderate but significant associations with the vegetarian status of their mothers. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 6, June 2020, Pages 1579–1589, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa042.
Kurpad AV, Thomas T. Protein quality and its food source in the diets of young Indian children. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 6, June 2020, Pages 1350–1351, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa100.
Images credit: canva.com