Guest post by Kyle Tuttle
Fad diets are nothing new; they’ve been around for ages. And the reason they’re fads is that most people soon realize they don’t work and stop using them just as quickly as they started. Unfortunately, there’s always another fad diet waiting in the wings.
The typical fad diet falls into one of (or a combination of) the following three categories:
- The virtue of a particular food or food group is exaggerated and purported to cure specific diseases, and is therefore incorporated as a primary constituent of an individual’s diet.
- Foods are eliminated from an individual’s diet because they are viewed as harmful.
- An emphasis is placed on eating certain foods to express a particular lifestyle.
The human body requires a base level of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to grow and function properly, and fad diets often disrupt this nutritional balance. The impact of this disruption can range from mild to devastating. In the case of developing children, the effects of malnutrition can be especially severe.
Two popular fad diets have been shown to be particularly harmful to young children:
- Vegan diets. Vegans avoid foods made from animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy — each a natural source of the proteins, fats and vitamins (particularly B12) crucial to infant development. While advocates of vegan diets do often recommend mother’s breast milk as the optimal diet for children under the age of one, it’s rare to hear them acknowledge that infants fed only breast milk can still be malnourished if the mother follows a strict vegan diet.
- Macrobiotic diets. These restrictive diets get progressively more limited as one gets older. Grain is the staple of a macrobiotic diet, present in disproportionately high levels, and at the expense of meat and dairy — the latter of which (as mentioned) is especially important in infants. In fact, scientific studies have shown a high prevalence of rickets and an increased risk of vitamin B-12 and iron deficiency in infants on macrobiotic diets.
While malnutrition is harmful at any age, it is particularly catastrophic for young children in their formative stages. An infant’s nutritional needs are distinctly different from an adult’s:
- A deficiency of vitamin D and calcium can lead to rickets – characterized by dental deformities, decreased muscle tone, and softening of the bones, which can lead to skeletal deformities, including a misshapen head and bowlegs, among others.
- A deficiency of B vitamins carries a whole host of malnutrition nightmares. For example, Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
- Due to the extensive growth and myelination of their nerve cells, children under the age two children require very high levels of dietary fat. About 50% of their overall calories should come from high-fat sources.
Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that subjecting an infant or young child to fad diets or cult diets that disregard established nutritional guidelines isn’t just irresponsible, but is in fact a form of child abuse. Consider the following cases, where parents were charged with intentionally harming their children through the use of overly-restrictive fad diets:
- Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas were each sentenced to life in prison for the death of their 6-week old son, Crown Shakur. The infant was fed a diet consisting almost entirely of soy milk and organic apple juice, and weighed just 3 1/2 pounds when he died.
- Joseph and Silva Swinton were convicted of first degree assault after nearly starving their infant daughter, Ilce, to death on a strict vegan diet. At 15 months old, Ilce suffered from rickets, broken bones, internal injuries and suspected neurological damage.
- Joseph and Lamoy Andressohn were acquitted of aggravated manslaughter but convicted of four counts of child neglect when their 6-month old daughter, Woyah, died after being fed a diet of raw fruits and vegetables. The child neglect charges stemmed from the condition of their surviving children, each of whom was severely malnourished.
Clearly, these are extreme cases, but they illustrate how dangerous fad diets can be when enforced on young children who have very different nutritional requirements from adults. Without intervention, a child can suffer permanent physical or mental damage, or even death. If an adult prefers to eat a vegan diet to protect animals, that’s their choice and their right. But when they have a child, perhaps that’s the animal they should be saving first.
This guest post was contributed by Kyle Tuttle, whose writing focuses on helping students find the right psychology degree. He can be reached at tuttletr33 at gmail dot com.