Raising A Vegan Kid Could Soon Be Illegal In Italy. Here's What We Should Really Be Talking About
It seems that the media cannot help but give the wrong message at the wrong time. You may have seen the recent headlines blasted around the web about a legislator in Italy who proposed making it illegal to raise a child on a vegan diet. (Her proposal came after a few isolated instances of some Italian parents not properly feeding their children a balanced vegan diet.)
The American Dietetic Association clearly states that "well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes." And yet the poor judgment by just a handful of vegan parents in Italy received enormous and inappropriate amounts of attention in the news.
Feeding children whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is a goal we should strive for — not punish.
This is not what the media should be focused on. There's a much bigger problem, of far more concern than the unfortunate health of one Italian child: the rate of obesity and poor nutrition in millions of children in the United States. This shocking problem should be the news that's making headlines everywhere. These are just some of the sobering statistics from the CDC that should slap us awake as a nation:
- Among children ages 2 to 19 years, the prevalence of obesity is 17 percent and affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents.
- The rate of obesity increases to 20.5 percent among 12- to 19-year-olds.
- The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents was higher among Hispanics (22.4 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (20.2 percent) than among non-Hispanic whites (14.1 percent).
Plus, a new report about kids' heart health should further shock us into action, far more than the news from Italy. The American Heart Association measured ideal health in children by their adherence to seven key factors:
- Not using tobacco products
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily
- Eating a healthy diet
- Having a healthy cholesterol level
- Having a healthy blood pressure
- Having a healthy blood sugar level
What did they find? Nearly all the children in the study (about 91 percent) scored poorly on dietary measures. In fact, they discovered that American children ages 2 to 19 years old get the bulk of their daily calories from simple carbohydrates such as sugary desserts and beverages.
The findings on exercise weren't much better. Among 16- to 19-year-olds, the percentage meeting the recommended amount of physical activity was just 10 percent in boys and 5 percent in girls.
Was there any good news? The healthiest measure for children was blood pressure, with nearly all children in the ideal group. Most children also had ideal measurements for total blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
In response to the headlines from Italy, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Neal Barnard, M.D., highlighted four advantages of plant-based diets for children, in the world of escalating childhood obesity. These include:
- Vegan diets are safe for all stages of life.
- Vegan diets are more likely to meet recommendations for servings of fruits and vegetables.
- Vegan diets promote healthier hearts, even in children.
- Vegan diets promote lower rates of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Fortunately, the drama in Italy will die down, and already more rational voices are responding. Clearly, feeding children large amounts of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is a goal we should strive for — not punish. While all parents have a responsibility to provide diverse and nutritious meals to children, the all-too-frequent feeding of hyperprocessed fast food to children is a far greater, but apparently not newsworthy, offense.
Dr. Joel Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is owner of GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. His books, The Whole Heart Solution, Dead Execs Don't Get Bonuses, and Vegan Sex are all available for sale now.