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Italian lawmakers consider ban of veganism for kids — what are the pros and cons?

by AirTalk®

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Three-year old Leonard and his five-year old sister Amelie enjoy eating a strawberries during the opening of the crop season on May 19, 2010 in Luedinghausen, western Germany. VOLKER HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images

Restricting kids to a vegan diet could be considered child abuse punishable by jail time in Italy if a new proposal by a lawmaker in that country passes.

The new law is in response to the mayor of Turin, Italy, saying she wanted her town to be Italy’s first “vegan city.”

The text of the bill (in Italian) says that parents who force their kids to eat vegan are imposing a diet that is “devoid of essential elements for healthy and balanced growth.” While it doesn’t outright ban veganism country-wide, if passed it would make it difficult for parents to impose the diet on their children.

Under the law, parents who make their kids eat vegan could face a year in prison if their child is over the age of 3 and two years if the child is younger. That term could turn into four years if the child gets sick as a result of the diet, and up to seven years if the child dies. Word is that the bill stands a decent chance of passing, as it comes after four children in Italy over an 18 month period were removed from their homes and placed in hospital care due to vitamin deficiencies believed to be tied to vegan diets.

Reed Mangels is registered dietician and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She raised her children on vegan diets. She believes veganism is a good choice for kids, as long as it’s done correctly.

“[The proposed law] is just absurd...A well-planned vegan diet has the elements that are necessary for growth and development” said Mangels.

She suggested it’s as easy learning a few nutritional tips and applying them at mealtime.

“I think if you learn the basics about good nutrition, it becomes second nature. So, you’re planning a meal and you think ‘Oh, I need a protein source -- beans for instance, soy products -- I need vegetables, fruits, some kind of starchy food.’ That’s pretty simple.”

Adjunct professor of public health at UCLA Bill McCarthy agrees, but he said parents must be cautious.

Some vegan diets may not provide kids with all of  the necessary vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin B12. Low B12 levels can hamper neurological development, as well as cause irritability and weakness.

McCarthy suggested closely monitoring vegan children’s vitamin levels and making changes accordingly.

“Even though most parents of vegan children are aware of the need for supplementation, nonetheless, when tested using a simple blood test, the children do show some signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency,” McCarthy said.

There are vegan B12 supplements on the market, though Mangels said kids should start with a daily multivitamin.

She and McCarthy agreed that ultimately what’s most important is making sure your child gets the nutrients they need.

“You can have a lousy animal diet or conversely a vegetarian or vegan diet that’s not healthy. It’s not just [about] veganism versus animal foods, but also the quality of your food choices,” McCarthy said.

These interviews have been edited for clarity.

Guests:

Reed Mangels, Ph.D., registered dietician and lecturer specializing in vegetarian nutrition at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Bill McCarthy, Ph.D., adjunct professor of public health at UCLA

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