FACT
SHEET

Benefits
of meat for children and teens 

from Children
and Teens Afraid to Eat: Helping Youth

in Today’s
Weight-Obsessed World

Young people
today
are consuming less meat, eggs and
milk than in the 1970s. Many are turning away from these foods entirely
and embracing a vegan lifestyle. We need to respect personal food choices,
yet this is very dangerous. Lack of  meat and other animal foods can
stunt growth and impair mental and physical development. It should be a
concern for parents, teachers, health care providers and everyone who cares
about kids. But  is being largely ignored in the current climate of
media health scares, food fears and confusion of healthful eating.

1. What
are kids eating today?

 Young
people in the U.S. today eat more snack foods, crackers, corn chips, desserts
and candy than in the 1970s, and drink three times as much soda pop, according
to USDA studies. They eat more pasta, rice dishes, tacos and pizza, consume
less meat, eggs and milk, and are still short on fruit and vegetables. 

 Only
half of teenagers drink milk, compared with 75 percent in the 1970s. Those
who drink milk average only about 1½ to 2 cups a day, far less than
the recommended 3 to 5 servings. 

 Teenage
girls have the poorest diets of any group in the U.S. Only about 15 percent
get the calcium and 25 percent the iron recommended. Three-fourths are
deficient in many important nutrients. Only about one-fourth eat recommended
amounts from the meat group.

 Along
with the unbalanced diets they are eating, kids today have higher rates
of eating disorders, dysfunctional eating and overweight than ever before,
and they are affected by these problems at ever younger ages.

2. Why are
kids eating less meat — or none at all?

 American
children and teens are eating less meat today for several reasons. 

 First,
many teen girls, desperate to lose weight and be extremely thin, have stopped
eating meat and drinking milk because they fear fat in these foods, even
though they could consume them with little or no fat. Are they using meat
alternates instead: one-fourth to one-third cup of peanut butter, or one
to one-and-a-half cups of baked beans, to substitute for one serving of
meat, and multiplying that by two to three servings a day, as recommended
in the Food Guide Pyramid? It seems doubtful. 

 Studies
suggest that 60 percent or more of teenage girls have dysfunctional eating
patterns — they skip meals, diet, fast and binge. Many are undernourished
or malnourished, and when they binge it is usually on snack foods, pastries,
cookies and candy, which provide little nutrition and are high in calories
— instead of a beef sandwich or boiled egg, which could greatly improve
their nutrition status. 

 Teen
athletes are at special risk. These girls, their parents, coaches and physicians
should be aware that those who do not eat meat risk adverse effects on
health, training, and performance. They are at high risk for eating disorders,
and the female athlete triad: osteoporosis, amenorrhea, and eating disorders.

 Second,
many young people in kindergarten through college are responding to a frightening
message brought by animal rights zealots right into their schools and on
college campuses focusing on animal cruelty and urging them to stop eating
meat and other animal products. 

 Third,
more families are snacking or “grazing” instead of eating regular meals.
Meals are more likely than snacks to follow healthy eating principles of
balance, variety, and moderation.

 Fourth,
many parents fear eating red meat because of food scares by some in the
media and the health community that animal fats may raise cholesterol levels,
even though there appears to be no basis for health concerns related to
eating lean meat.  For example, reindeer herders in Siberia and cattle
raising tribes of East Africa, whose diets consist mainly of animal products,
have very low cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Excess fat in the diet
should be avoided, like too much sugar, salt or alcohol. However, fat is
essential for good health. 

 Again,
we are reminded to avoid overemphasizing one aspect of diet or health when
it may negatively impact other areas. All foods can fit in a healthy eating
plan. It makes good nutrition sense to balance what we eat from all five
food groups, choose a variety of foods from each group, and to eat moderately.

3. Why is
eating meat beneficial for youth?

 It is
well established that eating meat improves the quality of nutrition, strengthens
the immune system, promotes normal growth and development, is beneficial
for day-to-day health, energy and well-being, and helps ensure optimal
learning and academic performance. Yet eating disorder specialists and
pediatricians are seeing alarming numbers of young children today with
stunted growth, fragile bones and stress fractures who have stopped eating
meat and other animal-source foods.

 The
long-term Bogalusa Heart Study finds that children who eat more meat are
less likely to have deficiencies than those who eat little or no meat.
Kids who don’t eat meat — and especially if they restrict other foods,
as many girls are doing — are more likely to feel tired, apathetic, unable
to concentrate, are sick more often, more frequently depressed, and are
the most likely to be malnourished and have stunted growth. Meat and other
animal-source foods are the building blocks of healthy growth that have
made America’s youngsters among the tallest, strongest and healthiest in
the world.

 Meat
is an important source of quality nutrients, heme iron, protein, zinc and
B-complex vitamins. It provides high-quality protein important for kids’
healthy growth and development. 

 Iron.
The iron in meat (heme iron) is of high quality and well absorbed by the
body, unlike nonheme iron from plants which is not well absorbed. More
than 90 percent  of iron consumed may be wasted when taken without
some heme iron from animal sources. Substances found to inhibit nonheme
iron absorption include phytates in cereals, nuts and legumes, and polyphenolics
in vegetables. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, headache, irritability
and decreased work performance. For young children, it can lead to impairment
in general intelligence, language, motor performance and school readiness.
Girls especially need iron after puberty due to blood losses, or if pregnant.
Yet studies show 75 percent of teenage girls get less iron than recommended. 

 Zinc.
Meat, poultry and eggs are also good sources of absorbable zinc, a trace
mineral vital for strengthening the immune system and normal growth. Deficiencies
link to decreased attention, poorer problem solving and short-term memory,
weakened immune system, and the inability to fight infection. While nuts
and legumes contain zinc, plant fiber contains phytates that bind it into
a nonabsorbable compound. 

 Vitamin
B12. Found almost exclusively in animal products, Vitamin B12 is necessary
for forming new cells. A deficiency can cause anemia and permanent nerve
damage and paralysis. 

 Why
not buy food supplements to replace missing vitamins and minerals? Some
people believe they can fill those gaps with pills, but they may be fooling
themselves. Research consistently shows that real foods in a balanced diet
are far superior to trying to make up deficiencies with supplements. We
don’t yet know all the functions of foods. For example, phytochemicals
are known to be protective against cancer, but many are unidentified; there
may be over 100 different phytochemicals in one serving of vegetables.
Another recent discovery is the cancer protective effect of conjugated
linoleic acid (CLA) from animal fats, found almost exclusively in animal
foods, and one of the most potent natural anticarcinogens ever identified.
Missing out on the vegetables they need and animal-source foods can deprive
young people of these and other protective foods, some as yet unknown.

 When
youngsters choose to give up meat, there is concern about how they are
doing it, and to what extremes they might go.

 Vegetarians
frequently express concern about their anemia, lack of energy, stomach
pain, digestive problems, flatulence, and the stunting of children’s growth.
The pleasures of eating may also be reduced: Paul Obis, founder of Vegetarian
Times and a longtime advocate of vegetarianism, recently began eating meat
again, explaining, “Twenty-two years of tofu is a lot of time.”

 Even
a small amount of meat can dramatically improve a poor diet. The nutrients
in meat are highly concentrated, yet lean meat is relatively low in calories.
And studies show that meals with meat satisfy longer. Eating meat along
with a variety of foods from the other four food groups ensures a high-quality,
healthy diet of real food, the best source of nutrients for growing, developing
young people.

4. How did
meat benefit early humans?

 Humans
are omnivores, with the ability to eat nearly everything. By preference,
prehistoric people ate a high-protein, high-mineral diet based on meat
and animal sources, whenever available. Their foods came mainly from three
of the five food groups: meat, vegetables and fruits. 

 As a
result, big game mammoth hunters were tall and strong with massive bones.
They grew six inches taller than their farming descendants in Europe, who
ate mostly plant foods, and only in recent times regained most of this
height upon again eating more meat, eggs and dairy foods.

 Throughout
the world, even today, the tallest populations are those that historically
ate more meat.

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