Animal Aid

GUIDELINES FOR HEALTH PRACTITIONERS - An open letter to the DOH

Posted 1 February 2003
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Alan Milburn MP
The Department of Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall
London SW1A 2NL

February 12, 2003

Re: Guidelines for advice on vegetarian diets to all health practitioners

Dear Secretary of State

I write to you about the need for guidelines to be issued to all health practitioners. These guidelines would relate to parents who are already, or who are considering, raising their children on a vegetarian diet.

As early as 1986, the British Medical Association stated that, 'Vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders, cancers and gall stones. Cholesterol levels tend to be lower in vegetarians.' It concluded that vegetarians have higher folate levels and that the diet is therefore suitable for infants. (British Medical Association, Diet, Nutrition and Health, BMA Report, 4, 11, p.49, 1986.)

The influential American Dietetic Association (ADA) agrees. In its 1997 position paper on vegetarian diets, it states: 'Appropriately planned vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children and adolescents and promote normal growth.' (Messina VK, Burke KI, Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. J Am Diet Assoc 1997; 97: 1317-1321.) In another study, published in the ADA's journal, paediatric developmental tests in vegetarian children indicated a mental age that was advanced more than a year beyond chronological age. Their mean IQ - at 116 points - was well above average. (Dwyer JT, Miller LG, Arduino NL et al, Mental age and IQ of predominantly vegetarian children. J Am Diet Assoc 1980; 76: 142-7.)

Animal Aid has this month produced a report, Building A Vegetarian Future, in which the results of a vegetarian parents questionnaire are published. Nearly 800 parents were questioned in the survey. People were asked whether they had experienced negative pressure or positive encouragement about raising vegetarian children from their doctor or health visitor.

The results of the survey showed that, of the vegetarian parents who are bringing up their children vegetarian, 18% have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response from their doctor. Twenty per cent have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response from health visitors. Twenty percent report having come under mild or strong pressure from their doctor, and 19% report strong negative pressure from health visitors.

Some 5% of parents intended to raise their children as vegetarians but later changed their minds. Of this 5%, 30% were worried about their children's health and 30% were persuaded to introduce meat into their diets by someone else - sometimes their doctor (27%) or their health visitor/midwife (27%).

The results make clear that, despite an endorsement of vegetarianism from respected medical bodies, vegetarian parents may receive conflicting advice from GPs and health visitors at a local level. Animal Aid urges the Department of Health to issue guidelines for advice on vegetarian diets to all health practitioners. These guidelines should clarify that a balanced vegetarian diet is not only 100% healthy for children, it can actually offer health advantages.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Tyler
Director, Animal Aid

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