10/10/20 Reaction to the case of a malnourished baby from Australia: A well planned vegan diet is suitable for all ages!

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- sent to the editorial office of Slobodna Dalmacija


we are writing to you in regards to the article "Despite the doctor's advice, the parents fed the baby vegan diet - the consequences quickly showed" by Lenka Gospodnetić, which was published on October 3, 2020, on the portal slobodnadalmacija.hr.

The title and the article itself contain a series of inaccurate information and claims that suggest to readers that the vegan diet is inadequate and dangerous to children’s health. Instead of expert opinions, information about the unfortunate child is presented in a sensationalist way, portraying veganism as a nutritionally deficient and life-threatening diet and vegans as fanatics and irresponsible parents who knowingly endanger the health and lives of their children which encourages prejudice against vegans and veganism.

The article, without citing sources and specific names, talks about a malnourished one-year-old baby who suffered from cerebral palsy due to inadequate nutrition, including herbal powder and coconut milk, and herbal tea because of irresponsible parents. Despite the fact that such a diet has nothing to do with veganism or healthy eating and common sense in general, the article states that the cause of it is a vegan diet. The fact that the vegan diet is varied and rich in all the nutrients that can be obtained from fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, as well as ready-made vegan products and that there is a large number of children who grew up on a plant-based diet that are completely healthy is completely forgotten.

The diet as described in the article is insufficient for anyone, especially a developing child. Baby nutrition experts recommend that all children, with breast milk or infant formula, should be supplemented with solid foods from the age of six months, which for all children means eating fruit, vegetable, and cereal porridge. After the seventh month, babies are usually given foods with more protein. In vegan families, this can be, for example, legume puree, tofu porridge, etc. According to conventional recommendations, certain foods of animal origin are introduced as the child approaches his first birthday and egg whites and cow's milk are not recommended before the age of one. Thus, all children, regardless of their parents' diet, eat mostly plant-based foods by the age of one.

The problem, therefore, is not in the vegan diet, but in the lack of knowledge of children’s nutritional needs. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world's largest organization of nutritionists with more than 100,000 registered, 2016 published the view that a vegan diet is healthy, can prevent and treat chronic disease and is better for the environment. The researchers updated their 2009 vegetarian diet and concluded that vegetarian and vegan diets are not only suitable for all stages of the life cycle (pregnancy, infancy, childhood, etc.) but also help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity, and some cancers. Earlier in 2009 the American Nutrition Association and Canadian Nutritionists expressed the view that "a well-planned vegan and other vegetarian diet is suitable for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, childhood, and adolescence."

Animal Friends Croatia, therefore, advocates a vegan diet as the most adequate diet for all ages which, in addition to the benefits for human health, also encourages the development of compassion for animals and contributes to reducing greenhouse gases and environmental destruction.

Animal Friends Croatia expresses regret over the plight of the unfortunate baby mentioned in the article and believes that the responsibility for these frightening health consequences lies primarily with the parents. Also, the responsibility lies with health professionals who, due to their uneducatedness and negative attitude towards veganism, denied the baby's parents the information necessary for proper nutrition of the child or failed to find out why the parents do not bring the child to regular checkups. That way they left the proper care of the child to obviously insufficiently educated parents. Therefore the problem isn’t that the child didn’t receive the food of animal origin, but that unscrupulous parents didn’t provide him with practically any food, which is why the child was severely malnourished. When parents are poorly informed or uneducated about their child's diet and don’t pay attention to the doctor's advice, their child's health is at stake, regardless of the parents' dietary choices which were, in this case, vegan.

Publishing articles in which the vegan diet is sensationally accused of malnutrition of irresponsible parents seems to be a pity and injustice to all those parents who feed their children exclusively with plant foods and who do so in a responsible and informed way, but also to their children who are healthy and which are also stigmatized because of such allegations in the media.

Caring for the health and proper development of the child is based on responsibility, good information, and cooperation with the pediatrician who monitors the child's development. Therefore, it is important that, through parent education and media coverage, the importance of feeding the child a balanced and nutritionally balanced diet that will meet the needs of the child, regardless of the type of nutrition of the whole family, is emphasized. Proof of this is the vegan parents in Croatia whose children are healthy and progressing just as well as their peers who eat a mixed diet.

Therefore, we ask you to present the above-mentioned facts and our reaction to the mentioned article in Slobodna Dalmacija and to report on veganism and vegan diet of both children and parents professionally and referring to recent scientific research, expert opinions, and numerous examples of healthy children and adult vegans living everywhere around us.

With respect,
Luka Oman
president of Animal Friends Croatia

Zagreb, 9th October 2020.

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