A recent report issued by Belgium’s Royal Academy of Medicine (RAM) has sparked debate after recommending that children, teens, pregnant women, and nursing mothers should not follow a plant-based diet. The RAM—which functions as an advisory agency for Belgium’s government institutions—issued the opinion at the request of a representative of a national human-rights organization, who sought guidance for pediatricians and other health-care workers. In response, nonprofit medical organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) issued a thorough letter debating RAM’s conclusions. “As dietitians and physicians, we are greatly concerned about errors in your recent publication ‘Régimes végétariens et végétaliens administrés aux enfants et adolescents,’” PCRM experts Neal Barnard, MD, Susan Levin, RD, and Hana Kahleova, MD, wrote in a letter to the RAM. “Several key statements and conclusions were not based on scientific evidence and were both erroneous and misleading. It is essential that this information be corrected.” PCRM referenced, among other studies, an evidence-based, peer-reviewed publication from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), which reached very different conclusions from the RAM’s report. “Citing a robust body of evidence, the AND concluded, vegan diets are ‘appropriate, and they satisfy the nutrient needs and promote normal growth at all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes,’” PCRM said. “Children who follow vegetarian, including vegan, diets actually have far more nutritious diets than their nonvegetarian peers.” PCRM doctors pointed out that vegans consume less saturated fat and cholesterol while consuming more vitamins and fiber, leading to a lower risk of obesity. “Pregnancy outcomes, such as birth weight and pregnancy duration, are similar between vegetarian and nonvegetarian mothers. Additionally, vegan women are less likely to have excessive gestational weight gain and are at reduced risk for complications, such as preeclampsia and giving birth preterm,” PCRM continued. “Given the health benefits that come with consuming a vegan diet, the RAM would be remiss to suggest anything that discourages such eating by its citizens, including parents for their babies and children.”
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