New nationwide study reveals 34% of vegetarian and vegan children resort to buying unhealthy snacks due to a lack of options

A new nationwide study into the eating habits of children has revealed the lack of healthy options may be driving young vegetarians and vegans towards unhealthy eating habits.

According to research by health food brand Linda McCartney Foods, almost a quarter (23%) of children aged eight to 13 say they regularly go hungry at school due to a lack of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. A further 34% say that they spend money on unhealthy snacks from shops or vending machines due to the lack of options available to them.

New research findings suggest that schools may be failing to keep up with food trends, as 70% of children asked said they felt there aren’t enough vegetarian or vegan options offered, with 77% of vegan and vegetarian children saying they had been forced to eat meat at some point due to a lack of options available to them. 81% of parents with vegetarian or vegan children agree, with nearly three quarters (73%) of all parents criticising the lack of variety in school meals.

It’s estimated around 10% of children within this age range are now vegetarian or vegan, with an additional 44% moving towards a more flexitarian diet and making the effort to try and eat less meat and dairy.

According to research findings, 44% of children who have chosen to go meat-free have done so to be kinder to nature and animals, whilst a further 31% say they have done so as they think it is better for the planet. 29% cited wanting to be healthier, while 19% took the plunge to become meat-free as they preferred vegetarian food options already.

Somewhat worryingly, 7% reported making the choice to go vegan or vegetarian due to following in the footsteps of social media influencers. Research released earlier this year by the University of Liverpool highlighted this worrying trend, focusing on the negative influence social media can have on children’s food intake. Children were revealed to eat 32% more kcals from unhealthy snacks and 26% more kcals overall after watching social media influencers with snacks, with young people widely trusting vlogger endorsements more than celebrities and other endorsements.

While we are seeing a rise in healthy YouTubers and vloggers advocating for a more plant-based lifestyle, concerns still arise around the influence social media can have on children’s food choices.

The research results have been released in time for National Vegetarian Week 13-19 May. 2019 has seen a rise in media coverage of alternative, plant-based diets, with Veganuary making headlines throughout January. While a move towards a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle is always to be commended, worries have surfaced that some young people may be equating eating vegan with eating healthy, which is not always the case.

If you are thinking about making a change in your diet or lifestyle, it may be worth consulting with a nutrition professional before you make any significant changes. Nutrition coach, Susan Hart, explains:

“A nutrition expert can suggest meal ideas that provide you with a healthy, balanced diet, recommend specific foods that incorporate your macro and micronutrients like iron, B12 and omega 3 fatty acids. They can add that extra reassurance that you are on the right track.”

Discover more about how you can maintain a healthy vegan diet and the benefits of a vegetarian diet, or find out more about five types of vegan.