Growth, development, and physical fitness of Flemish vegetarian children, adolescents, and young adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):579S-585S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.3.579s.


This study was designed to assess average daily dietary intakes of energy in 82 vegetarian children (group A: 6- 9-y-old girls and 6-11-y-old boys), adolescents (group B: 10- 15-y-old girls and 12-17-y-old boys), and young adults (group C: 16-30-y-old females and 18-30-y-old males) and included determination of height and weight; triceps, suprailiac, and calf skinfold thicknesses; puberty ratings; and physical fitness. Dietary energy intake was lower than recommended values in all 3 groups. Height and weight did not differ significantly from the reference data except in group B, which had significantly lower heights and weights and lower body mass indexes (P<0.05). Triceps and suprailiac skinfold thicknesses were lower in all age groups, whereas the calf skinfold thickness was only significantly lower in the 10-15-y-old girls (P<0.05). The vegetarian children were as physically fit as the reference group. The vegetarian adolescent boys and girls and the young adults scored significantly lower on the standing long jump and 30-s sit-up (P<0.05). The vegetarian subjects of groups B and C recovered significantly faster from the step test (P<0.05). Puberty ratings plotted on percentile graphs showed that all vegetarian subjects, except for 1 girl, were within the normal developmental range. We conclude that, within the limits of this study, vegetarian subjects have lower relative body weights and skinfold thicknesses in adolescence than do nonvegetarians. They scored lower on the strength tests and better on the cardiorespiratory test when compared with reference values. The growth and maturation status of the vegetarian population were within the normal range.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Belgium
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Diet, Vegetarian / statistics & numerical data*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Puberty
  • Reference Values