Monday, February 21, 2005

USDA-Grade Science

Whether a vegan diet is unhealthy for children or not, this isn't how you study the question:

Putting children on strict vegan diets is "unethical" and could harm their development, a US scientist has argued....Research she carried out among African schoolchildren suggests as little as two spoonfuls of meat each day is enough to provide nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and iron.

The 544 children studied had been raised on diets chiefly consisting of starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples lacking these micronutrients.

Over two years, some of the children were given 2oz supplements of meat each day, equivalent to about two spoonfuls of mince.

Two other groups received either a cup of milk a day or an oil supplement containing the same amount of energy. The diet of a fourth group was left unaltered.
There are - how can I put this delicately? - some serious methodological problems here. You'll note that Allen - whose research was conducted under the auspices of the USDA - attempts to draw some convoluted equivalence between malnourished African children (who fare better when they're given more food...I'm glad that Science has finally sorted that out!), and first-world populations wherein a vegan diet need not be limited to "starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples lacking...micronutrients."

I'd further suggest that an experiment which relies for its dubious efficacy on witholding food from already undernourished children is, in itself, unethical.

As for whether a vegan diet is healthy for children...I have no real opinion, except to say that it's probably no more unhealthy than what the average American child eats. If it's "unethical" to feed children badly, that's yet another good reason to get fast-food vendors out of America's schools.


Cervantes said...

This experiment is definitely unethical! It's outrageous.

There are major controversies in the international medical community about the ethics of research conducted in poor countries by investigators from wealthy countries. They like to go to Africa where they don't have to provide people in the control arm of their experiments with the standard of care in the developed countries. In essence, they can do Tuskeegee syphillis experiment type research, and get away with it, as in this case. I believe the Public Citizen Health Research Group (no time now to get a link, sorry) has been compiling information and doing good work on this. There is an international convention (an update of the so-called Helsinki convention, developed in the wake of Nazi medical experiments) which is currently under consideration, on which the controversy is focused.

JMS said...

Science as a commodity. Take one scientist, add some money and gristle, and a dash of garlic. Voila. Grade A.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the USDA wants to scare US citizens into thinking that if we don't feed our children meat, and LOT$ of it, then they'll be unhealthy like those poor test-subjects that didn't get the 'meat' nutrients.

OR, to get the 'meat nutrient' Lysine, without actually eating meat, they could feed the kids buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa or oats.

Let’s talk a bit more about protein. The weak levels of the amino acid, lysine, found in grain has customarily been considered grain’s nutritional ‘weak link.’ However, unknown by many people, there are several grains rich in lysine such as buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and oats. These grains can either be eaten by themselves or blended with wheat, one of the low lysine grains, providing a balanced protein. You can also do this by adding dairy products or legumes to your diet. It’s not necessary to eat meat to exceed the body’s protein needs.Introduction to GrainsI'm shocked the organization conducting the experiment didn't at least give them some carrots, brocolli, and leafy greens. There's some cold-hearted folks there.


Thers said...


The phrase "spoonful of meat" alone is enough to make me a vegan.

Aquaria said...

I could care less what the ideologies are (Omnivores 'r' us! Vegans Unite!). I just want good science practiced.

I don't think the results will change anyone's beliefs about what to eat; the roots of those are too complex, pscyhologically and culturally. But some frickin' sound science, unfettered with agendae, to refer to would certainly be welcome. And not done at the expense of third-world peoples. They're people. Not guinea pigs.