Children’s health and development depends on the nutrition offered during the day. Food intakes provide energy and nourishment that children need to grow, learn and be healthy. Along with fruit, vegetables, cereals, children consume milk and meat as the most nutritious supplements. There is an opinion that milk contains all essential vitamins and nutrients required for a child's body and mind, such as vitamins A, B12, and D, protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, potassium and riboflavin. Children who consume milk products have “superior” nutrient, consequently, meat consumption is not crucial (Hannon, 2009). Furthermore, there is an opinion that meat can be harmful or even dangerous because it may contain hormones, antibiotics and toxins, concentration of which may not be always dully controlled. (Meat: Not Suitable for Children, 2013). Nevertheless, some scientists consider that infants and children who do not have daily meat-based intakes are at risk of deficiency in iron, zinc and vitamins A and D, which may result in poor eye function, weakened immune system, slow mental and physical development (Adam, 2012). The issue of children’s nutrition is crucial for all parents since their main responsibility is ensuring mental and physical health for their children.
Thune and Bates consider that a children’s balanced diet and daily adequate nutrient intakes can be provided without consumption of meat, since no significant differences caused by exclusion of meat from the diet have been seen, apart from the lower level of iron store. At the same time, vegetarians demonstrate even a more desirable nutritional profile due to a higher level of natural antioxidants compared with omnivores. Low concentration of vitamins A, C, and E may cause coronary heart diseases in the future, thus avoidance of meat consumption is a preventive measure, which is not a subject of the research (Thune & Bates, 2000). The results were obtained from the samples of venous bloodtaken from Asian and Caucasian children. The tests revealed consumption of the main food groups and their relation to the total food consumption, daily dietary energy and macro/microelement intakes, blood nutrition and hematological status indices, percentage of cut offs below the standards set by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Kingdom and the World Health Organization. The research is based on the data obtained within the National Diet and Nutrition Survey conducted in 1992 and 1993. Children were divided into two age groups: infants aged between 16 and 36 months and pre-school children aged between 36 and 52 months. In addition, they categorized into omnivores and vegetarians and vegetarianism was established when according to the record, kept by mothers, a child did not consume meat for 4 days. Data reduction was performed with the help of Microsoft Excel, while statistical analysis was done by using StatView. Variables were estimated for normal distribution by skewness, and non-normally distributed variable were processed by logarithm.
An international group of scientists from the leading medical and pediatric institutions of the United States and Hawaii believe that meat sufficiently improves children’s growth, cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Meat is stimulating for intellectual activities, such as abstract and analogue reasoning, problem solving and perceptual awareness. This could be attributed to a greater concentration of Vitamin B12, zinc and iron absorbed from meat fibers. In addition, meat is encouraging for more active and leadership behavior due to high-energy value. Finally, consumption of meat provides a higher rate in weight gain, in particular, growth of the muscle mass. Effect from meat intakes is enhanced by milk consumption, which is the best contribution into the linear growth of a child’s body (Neurman, Murphy, Gewa, Grillenberger & Bwibo, 2007). This is the randomized study of controlled feeding to test the impact of meat, milk and plant food on children’s ffunctional outcomes. The long-term research was conducted in Kenya schools randomized in four groups, such as meat, milk, plant nutrition and a control group where the diet did not change. The research involves blood tests results, which were not outlined, the Raven’s progressive matrix measures, observation methods and anthropometry measures. Windows 8 and SAS proc mixed were used for computing fixed and random effects.
The pro-milk argument is based on the extended blood tests, which in a detailed way demonstrate how various food intakes influence the composition of blood. In addition, the research comprises a category of infants, for whose development nutrition has greater impact. However, vegetarians comprise only 3% in the total amount of participants, thus, the prevailing share of omnivores cast doubts on the research relevance. Moreover, the records of food intakes were taken by mothers, not by researchers, thus, the data might not be accurate. Finally, the weakest point is that the survey does not provide recommendations on what food or medications should be taken by vegetarian children to avoid zinc, iron and B12 deficit.
The pro-meat argument is more convincing since it covers more aspects of a child’s performance, such as physiology, behavior and learning capabilities, but not only a composition of blood. Furthermore, it seems to be more reliable, since food intakes were controlled by scientists, not mothers, who might take record less accurately than skilled scientists. In addition, the period of pro-meat research lasted for a much longer period than 4 days, which evidences about approach that is more serious. The main value of the pro-meat argument is that it tolerates and even encourages milk consumption that is an evidence of compromise.
To sum up, the idea of the necessity of meat consumption by children is based on scientific findings, and it should be taken into consideration by all parents and pediatricians.