08/13/11 Children Put At Risk By Parents' Irresponsibility

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Animal Friends reacts to the death of a malnourished baby from Slovenia

- Children on a well-balanced vegan diet are healthy and well-developed

The public eye is currently on the case of the ten-month old boy from Slovenia who died weighing only 3600 g. It is suspected that his parents, who allegedly fed him a vegan diet, were starving the boy. According to the latest statements from Slovenian doctors, the boy died of sepsis, which is one of the leading causes of death in children at that age and is not necessarily related to the child's diet. However, vegan diet was portrayed in a sensationalist way as the culprit for the child's death, which is inaccurate, and which creates an atmosphere of lynching towards vegans and parents who feed themselves and their children a veg(etari)an diet.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding until the sixth month, and starting a baby on supplements at five months, if the baby is not gaining enough weight. First solid foods are usually mashed grains and fruit and vegetable purees. When the baby is seven months old, it should ingest foods that contain more protein. In vegan families, these can be legume-based purees or a tofu-based porridge.

According to conventional recommendations, certain animal based foods are introduced as the child approaches the first birthday, and egg-whites and cow's milk are not recommended before the child is one year old. Therefore, all children, regardless of their parents' diet, are fed mostly plant based foods until they are ten months old. The only additional need of vegan mothers who breastfeed, and children on a vegan diet is vitamin B12, either from food or supplements. If parents follow these guidelines and respond adequately to a child's feeling of hunger and appetite, children on a vegan diet develop just as well and are just as healthy as children on a mixed diet.

Animal Friends considers accusations and attacks on individuals and parents who feed themselves and their children a vegan diet to be inappropriate for a democratic society. Individual cases of parents' neglect for their child, which are not related to veganism, are generalized to stigmatize all vegans. This creates an image of vegans as irresponsible persons who put the health and lives of their children at risk, which is completely mistaken because most parents want to provide and do provide a healthier childhood for their children. The erroneous image of vegans also harms the unstoppable increase of the number of vegetarians and vegans in Croatia and the world, which stand out with their responsible attitude towards diet and health, both their own and their children's.

The tragic death of the boy in Slovenia is the result of individual parents' (ir)responsibility and neglect for the child's health, not proof that vegan diet is not suitable for children. That is why Animal Friends decidedly distances itself from the case in question and calling the diet of a 10-month-old baby weighing only 3600 g vegan. Animal Friends is also warning against informing the public in a superficial and sensationalist way. When parents are ill-informed about a child's diet and do not pay attention to medical advice, their child's health is at risk, regardless of their choice of diet.

American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have made a very detailed and lengthy research (latest additions were made in 2009), which concludes that "a well-planned vegan and other vegetarian diet is suitable for any stage in life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy and adolescence." Furthermore, the research states "that a properly planned vegetarian diet is healthy, sufficient in nutrients, and ensures health benefits in prevention and treatment of certain diseases." World renowned pediatrician, dr. Benjamin Spock in his book Baby and Child Care specifically recommends a vegan diet as completely acceptable for the child's health.

A big problem is the fact that pediatricians and nutritionists are uneducated, and often discourage vegetarians and vegans from their diet, pushing them to include animal based foods in their own and their children's diet. This does not help solve possible lack of nutrients in vegetarians. The role of pediatricians and nutritionists is precisely to instruct parents vegetarians and vegans on how to adequately combine plant based foods, which are a rich source of all necessary nutrients.

Caring for the health and development of a child is based on responsibility, information, and cooperation with a pediatrician who oversees a child's development. Therefore, it is important to, through parents' education and media coverage, emphasize the necessity of feeding a child a balanced, nutrient rich diet, in accordance with a child's needs, regardless of the dietary choices of the family. The proof to that are vegan parents in Croatia, whose children are healthy and are developing well on a vegan diet.

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