Fad diets putting kids’ lives at risk
HIPSTER parents who think it is healthier for their children to be on popular adult diets are instead risking their lives, doctors have warned.
Six young children on vegan or paleo diets have been admitted to hospital recently, while a high-profile court case last month saw eastern suburbs parents charged with reckless grievous bodily harm and failing to provide for a child, causing danger of serious injury, after their 20-month-old daughter was left malnourished and suffering from rickets on a vegan diet.
Northern NSW, a hotbed of alternative lifestyles and fad dietary advice, has seen multiple cases.
Lismore paediatrician Dr Chris Ingall said a two-yearold boy who weighed just 10kg — the size of a one-yearold — was admitted to hospital “failing to thrive” as a result of his parents raising him on a strict vegan diet.
“The vegan diet doesn’t contain enough calories for a baby to grow,” Dr Ingall said.
“He was just so little, he only looked about ninemonths-old. This is a big hit on the developing brain. This baby will need to come into hospital just so it can
Family and Community Services has been alerted to the case, he said.
“The brain needs carbs, fats and protein, it needs basic food groups to form. People are peddling books about various diets that will help you, and everyone has an angle they are trying to push.
“But children are different — you have a growing, developing brain that needs all food groups,” Dr Ingall said.
Another case recently presented at Lismore Hospital involved a 10-month-old baby that was weaned on to a paleo diet, which excludes carbohydrates. “While the baby was receiving breast milk, there were carbohydrates in the baby’s system (but) when the breastfeeding stopped, that baby fell off a cliff because suddenly the carbohydrates stopped, so the baby had no option but to start breaking down his own fats to get energy to the brain,” Dr Ingall said.
“When the baby came to hospital, the baby was very tired and needed to have carbs put back into the system. With the mainstream dietary advice, the baby is now doing well.”
Professor Paul Colditz, president of paediatrics and child health at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians said “parents should appreciate that diets that are popular for adults may not be appropriate for children, who have growing bodies and need a variety of food.”
Children’s Hospital Westmead dietitian Sheridan Collins said restrictive diets are not appropriate for children.
“Children need a wide variety of foods for the range of nutrients needed for that period of rapid growth.
“A restrictive diet can block out whole food groups, which leads to deficiencies. They need all five food groups,” Ms Collins said.
In April, naturopath Marilyn Bodnar was jailed for 14 months after directing a breastfeeding mother to go on a raw food diet to cure her son’s eczema in 2015.
When the mother finally took the child to hospital in May 2015, the boy was emaciated and days away from death.